Tag Archives: words

Review of 2017: Vic Watson

The turn of the year comes around quick, doesn’t it? It seems like only yesterday I was telling you all how great 2016 had been! But, here we are, another year older with more experiences under our belts. I must thank everyone who has taken the time to review their year on the blog and to everyone who’s read, shared and commented posts from this blog throughout the last year. Here’s to a happy, healthy 2018! 

Professionally speaking, this year has been another cracker. Noir at the Bar has continued to grow, with factions popping up all over the UK. I’m delighted that the one in Newcastle continues to be popular and I cannot tell you how wonderful it was to be in the Blues Bar in Harrogate on Thursday, 20th July. Presenting Noir at the Bar Harrogate to a packed audience was just incredible. Possibly one of the highlights of that day was a gentleman who asked me at the end of the event how often we ran it as he hadn’t known it was going to be on. I said “Sorry, have we hijacked your quiet afternoon pint?” He laughed and said he was thrilled to have stumbled upon the event and would definitely come to them on purpose in future! 


This year’s Newcastle Noir saw me do my first ever panel. I was on a panel with Susan Heads of the Book Trail, Quentin Bates, Sarah Wood and the powerhouse behind Orenda Books – Karen Sullivan. Our panel was moderated by the wonderful Miriam Owen and I enjoyed that hour immensely.


Another hour that was fun was appearing on the award-winning ArtyParti at Spark FM with Mandy Maxwell, Iain Rowan, Kirsten Luckins and Tony Gadd. We talked to Jay Sykes about writing and events, it was a lovely atmosphere and I felt completely relaxed thanks to the excellent host. 


My writing groups are still going strong and I arranged a stranding retreat on St Mary’s Island in August and the participants gave very positive feedback. I hope to run more retreats next year. 


I’ve had a lot of people asking if I’ve finished my novel yet and when they’ll be able to buy it so that’s very encouraging. I’ve also had a few people tell me they’d like to hear it on Audible which is a real compliment. Thanks to my friend Kay setting me an achievable weekly word target, I’ve almost completed my first draft. 

Hmm, favourite personal memory? Tough one, that. Well, I suppose I’d better say that getting married to the love of my life was the highlight of my year. Just kidding – of course it was! 

I walked down the aisle with my dad to ‘You’re So Cool‘ by Hans Zimmer (featured in ‘True Romance‘) in front of our closest friends and family. 


Instead of going for sugar almonds as wedding favours, we gave everyone a book. The Boy Wonder and I are both bookworms and we therefore wanted to give our guests a personalised gift. We didn’t have a lot of guests and we enjoyed thinking which book to choose for each of the guests – we were like a real life algorithm! 


The day we got married, I was emailed by the production team from ‘The Chase’ to say that my episode – recorded in July 2016 – would be aired on 30th March so watching that was a lot of fun too.


OK, I didn’t mention ‘The Chase’ in my 2016 Review but, contractually, I wasn’t allowed! Watching my episode, despite knowing the result, was nerve-wracking. I actually didn’t mind seeing myself on TV – I was nowhere near as critical of myself as I was expecting to be! I watched with my husband (I love saying that), my brother and three friends. I got lots of lovely messages from friends all over the country.  


I’d also like to say what a special day my hen do was. I never wanted a fuss and opted to go for afternoon tea with my friends and my mum. I cannot explain what a lovely occasion that was. Those wonderful women made me feel like a million bucks. 


My film of the year was ‘Get Out‘, second would be ‘Dunkirk‘. 

I have enjoyed many books this year including ‘Darktown‘ by Thomas Mullen, ‘The Prime of Miss Dolly Greene‘ by E.V Harte, ‘Lost for Words‘ by Stephanie Butland and ‘Small, Great Things‘ by Jodi Picoult. I also loved ‘Everyone Brave is Forgiven‘ by Chris Cleave. And a late entry has to be ‘Good Me, Bad Me‘ by Ali Land. However, my top three – in no particular order – are ‘Six Stories‘ by Matt Wesolowski, ‘Yellow Room‘ by Shelan Rodger and ‘The Break‘ by Marian Keyes. 

Song of the year? Hm. Anything that was on our wedding playlist – we chose all the songs ourselves. We tried to have at least one track for each of the wedding guests so either a track that reminded us of them or one we knew they liked.
Other music I’ve listened to this year includes a lot of music from the Nashville OSTs, ‘…Ready For It?‘ and ‘Look What You Made Me Do‘ by Taylor Swift. 

There has been illness and sadness but most of us are still here – and that is wonderful.

However, the death of Helen Cadbury in June was a tremendous loss to many of us in the writing community – and beyond. Helen was a friend to me. She was always kind, supportive and quick with a joke. She pulled out of Noir at the Bar in February because she was poorly but I didn’t know the extent of her illness. In July, we raised our glasses to toast Helen at Noir at the Bar in Newcastle and Harrogate. Helen made such a positive impact on so many that it felt right to dedicate the events to her.

The last time I saw Helen was at Harrogate Festival in July 2016 although I had spoken to her since. She, Lucy Cameron and I joked about having similar hair colours and styles. Helen said we should call ourselves the three northern blondes and take a selfie. For some reason, that photo didn’t get taken and I regret that missed opportunity.

I have yet to read ‘Race to the Kill‘, the final novel in the Sean Denton trilogy, or her collection of poetry, ‘Forever Now‘, because I don’t want to come to the end of Helen’s work. Of course, I won’t put it off forever. 

Resolutions? Just keep on keeping on, I think. I over commit and trying not to do that remains a work in progress. 

I hope that this world will sort itself out. There are so many things going wrong and I hope that things will be put right but in order for that to happen, we all need to engage. 

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Review of 2017: Rob Walton

Our final guest today is the rather brilliant Rob Walton.

Many people on the North-East writing scene will know Rob thanks to his performances at The Stanza as well as his involvement with Free as a Bard. 

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Rob this year for our Christmas ghost stories at Old Low Light. 

As you may notice, Rob has added in a few extra questions – we hope you enjoy them. My thanks to Rob for taking the time to share his year with us. 

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
It’s difficult to pinpoint a moment, so I’ll go for a time of year.  Autumn going into winter was great in that I had several acceptances and publications in magazines and anthologies within a short apace of time.  What was particularly gratifying was that (a) people were liking things I’d reworked or sent out again after editing and (b) a range of stuff was accepted – a children’s poem, creative non-fiction, poetry, short stories and flash fictions.  All felt right with my writing world.  Until the next rejection of course.

Also, there were many lovely performance nights with wonderful hosts.  Once again I gate-crashed one of the lovely Vic Watson’s evenings, this time I read a Dickens’ mash-up Christmas ghost story.  I had some quirky firsts too.  I worked with Russ Coleman to cast some words in concrete.

Then there was a concrete poem in a wonderful quirky book and an aperture poem courtesy of Sidekick Books.

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
This straddles the personal and the professional.  Not a moment, but rather the ongoing friendship and support from various writerly people hereabouts.  I hope they know who they are.

Favourite book in 2017?
I read and really enjoyed some great work by writer friends, but I wouldn’t want to miss any of them out – Paul Summers has got a vicious temper and Harry Gallagher’s got a bow and arrow –  so I’ll go further afield.  Not all of these were released this year, but I read them in 2017.

Jan Carson’s Postcard Stories from the Emma Press was also great.  Every day in 2015 she wrote a story on a postcard and sent it to a friend.  The highlights are collected in the book.

Short stories: I’m going for Danielle McLaughlin’s Dinosaurs On Other Planets.  My partner heard one on Radio 4 and got me to listen to it, and then bought it for my birthday.  It’s bloody brilliant.  Spend your Christmas money on it, whatever Christmas money is.

Ali Smith’s Public Library and other stories also went down a treat.  I think she’s brilliant.

Poetry: I found a copy of Kim Moore’s The Art of Falling in North Shields Library, and was seriously impressed.

Memoir: it has to be Thatcher Stole My Trousers by Alexei Sayle.

Favourite film of the year? 
It’s go to be The Florida Project.  I saw it at the Tyneside with a load of older folk eating sandwiches.  Of course I wouldn’t do that – I had sandwiches and crisps.

Favourite song of the year?
I don’t know about a specific song but there were some real gems in Luke Haines’ set at The Cluny 2 in May and, continuing with the live theme, Sleaford Mods were great in the autumn at the old Poly Union building, whatever it’s called these days.

Favourite sports team of the year?
Yet again it’s Scunthorpe United.

Favourite cake of the year?
That would be the rhubarb crumble one with the sticks Steve and Sam gave us, grown in the City of Culture.

Any downsides for you in 2017?
I discovered that a woman in Lerwick is challenging my claim to being the inventor of cheese.  And my right hamstring’s been tighter than I would like.  Then there was the Untied Kingdom thing. 

Are you making resolutions for 2018?
Going to keep more secrets, and be sick in more handbags (and deny all knowledge).

What are you hoping for from 2018?
Professionally: get a flash fiction collection together.
Personally: hope my daughters’ transitions from primary to secondary, and secondary to sixth form go smoothly.
Pugilistically: take it on the chin.

Review of 2017: Nick Quantrill

Another of our Saint Nicks is Nick Quantrill. Nick has kindly been contributing to the annual reviews on this very blog since they started in 2012. 

Nick has been a friend of mine for many years and he’s an absolute star. Thankfully Nick’s talent and hard work is being recognised but I’ll let him explain more. 

Merry Christmas, Nick, here’s to a brilliant 2018!

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
It has to be Hull Noir, a crime writing festival I worked on alongside Nick Triplow and Nikki East as part of the UK City of Culture celebrations. It was something that was on the radar from the moment Hull was shortlisted for the award in 2013, but it took up a huge amount of time and effort as the year progressed. Looking back, to entice the likes of Martina Cole, Mark Billingham, John Connolly and many others to take part was incredible. The turnout and reception the festival received was also incredible, so we’ve got some serious thinking to do about what might come next. 

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
The whole 2017 UK City of Culture programme in Hull has been amazing. Plenty people either mocked or scratched their heads when my city was announced as the host, and maybe with good cause, but it feels like perceptions are changing. The city has had a real buzz about it this year and I know Hull Noir visitors enjoyed their stay. 

Favourite book in 2017?
I’ve been lucky to have so much great reading pushed my way via chairing and interviewing at various events and festivals. The year started strongly with The Fatal Tree by Jake Arnott, took in brilliant debuts like, Sirens by Joseph Knox and featured some reading for pleasure from the likes of Stav Sherez and Michael Connelly. I’ve also received some proofs of exciting 2018 titles. Keep your eyes peeled for This Is How It Ends by Eva Dolan and Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh. 

Favourite film in 2017?
It’s bad, but I’m not even sure I saw a new film at the cinema this year. Box set wise, The Deuce from David Simon and George Pelecanos tackled a tough subject admirably. Peaky Blinders seems to have rediscovered its mojo and Bosch continues to impress. 

Favourite song of the year?
I’m old-school enough to think in terms of albums and even buy them on vinyl. The Navigator by Hurray For The Riff Raff blew me away. Alynda Segarra is the business. It’s an album that mixes up folk, country, doo wop, post-punk and everything in between, but has a fire and anger to it about the state of the world.

Any downsides for you in 2017?
On a personal level, Hull Noir and various other writing projects saw my own novel writing grind to a bit of a halt. There were a couple of false starts, which were totally my fault, but generally, it hasn’t been a good year in terms of producing new material. On the plus side, I’ve developed new skills and I’m proud of the feature pieces I produced for the 2017 UK City of Culture website, but I know what I need to do in 2018.

Words can’t describe the loss of Helen Cadbury to the writing world, but as readers and writers we’ve lost a friend and colleague. Writers are lucky to live on through their words, and there’s some comfort to be found in Helen’s final novel and poetry collection, but it’s not enough.

Are you making resolutions for 2018?
Nope. I know what I need to do, but I think formalising them as resolutions adds a layer of pressure that isn’t necessarily healthy.

What are you hoping for from 2018?
The priority is to get a new novel finished. I’ve broken ground on it and maybe a sort-of enforced break hasn’t hurt, but I’m ready to be a writer again. I enjoy the chairing opportunities that come my way, so hope to receive a few more invites. I also want to play my part in Hull building on such a positive year.

Review of 2017: Jennifer C Wilson

Today’s 2017 reviewer is Jennifer C Wilson. A prolific member of Elementary Writers, Jen has had a very successful year professionally speaking so I’ll let her tell you all about it. 

My thanks to Jen for being not only a pleasure to work with this year but a great friend. 

Vic x

Vic x

Hi Victoria,

Thanks for inviting me onto the blog today – and thanks for all your support this year; it’s been invaluable.

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
I think it has to be the launch of Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile in town. For Kindred Spirits: Tower of London, it was lovely to have the online launch, and see friends in the pub afterwards for a couple of celebratory drinks, but to have an actual ‘event’ this time around was incredible. I was amazed at how many people came along, and seeing the books piled up (and then see those piles reducing) was the best feeling. Actually, that’s wrong. Having a queue of people waiting for me to sign copies of those books was the best feeling. Truly unbeatable, and absolutely addictive!

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
Daft as it might sound, it was arriving in Oban, in September. It’s been a bit of a crazy year from time to time, but looking out across the bay, and breathing in that sea air, was fabulous. I’ve loved Oban since I was little, visiting for so many holidays, and I’ll never get bored of sitting in the apartment, watching the ferries and other boats come and go. This year, as well, the peace and calm was perfect for getting some more words into the WIP, and coming up with an idea that’s been muddling around my brain for a while.

Favourite book in 2017? 
I’ve been really lucky this year, having signed up to take part in some blog tours, to read some great fiction, after being away from it for so long. My favourite has been Watch for me by Moonlight by Kirsty Ferry. This is a timeslip romance, and I signed up because I was keen to see how other people had tackled the genre, and I absolutely adored the story.

Favourite film in 2017? 
I’m no film-buff – I rarely go to the cinema. But, the film I have enjoyed most this year has been Paddington. I really have to be in the right frame of mind to sit down and watch a whole film in one go, especially one I don’t know well, but my parents had decided to watch it, and I thought ‘why not?’. Turns out it was a good decision – it was a cracking film, good fun, and even happened to feature one of my favourite actors in a random cameo! And, I saw it just in time to go and see the second one!

Favourite song of the year? 
I really wish I was cooler sometimes – if it doesn’t make the Radio 2 playlist, I won’t know it. Having said that, I’ve always been a sucker for a good earworm, and the one which really got to me this summer was Reggaetón Lento from Little Mix. It seemed to be everywhere I went this year.

Any downsides for you in 2017?
Not enough time! I suspect all writers feel like that, but this year my brain seems to have gone into overdrive, and is swimming with ideas, but I have so little time to write them all down. But this last month seems to have turned a corner, and I’m managing things a little better.

Are you making resolutions for 2018?
Absolutely. Firstly, I intend to get as many ideas down on paper as possible. Not in full, but as ‘something’ at least, a synopsis or a sketch idea. At least this way, when I do have time to sit and write, I already have a plan of sorts, and I can work to that.

In terms of projects, I’ve really enjoyed self-publishing The Last Plantagenet? this year, and have a couple of ideas which have been nagging at me along a similar, timeslip line, so I think I will try and publish another one in 2018. I’ve been wanting to write about an abbey and a white stag for years, and have finally had the idea that brings them together, so fingers crossed! Speaking of abbeys, I’m really hoping that the next Kindred Spirits novel can make an appearance too… What are you hoping for from 2018?
More of the good stuff from 2017, and less of the worry. This may be asking too much!

About Jennifer

Jennifer is a marine biologist by training, who spent much of her childhood stalking Mary, Queen of Scots (initially accidentally, but then with intention). She completed her BSc and MSc at the University of Hull, and has worked as a marine environmental consulting since graduating. Enrolling on an adult education workshop on her return to the north-east reignited Jennifer’s pastime of creative writing, and she has been filling notebooks ever since. In 2014, Jennifer won the Story Tyne short story competition, and also continues to develop her poetic voice, reading at a number of events, and with several pieces available online. She is also part of The Next Page, running workshops and other literary events in North Tyneside.

Jennifer’s debut novel, Kindred Spirits: Tower of London, was released by Crooked Cat Books in October 2015, with Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile following in June 2017. She can be found online at her website, on Twitter and Facebook, as well as at The Next Page’s website. Her timeslip historical romance, The Last Plantagenet? Is available for download from Amazon.

Getting to Know You: Claire MacLeary

Today on the blog, we have the lovely Claire MacLeary. Claire is the author of ‘Cross Purpose’ which was longlisted for the McIlvanney Prize – Bloody Scotland’s annual prize – this year. The award was renamed in memory of William McIlvanney who was often described as the Godfather of Tartan Noir so to be nominated is an exceptional achievement. 

I have met Claire on several occasions and she has always been incredibly kind to me. When I heard Claire read from ‘Cross Purpose’, I was utterly blown away. Her character, Big Wilma, has really captured readers’ imaginations. I can’t wait to host her at Noir at the Bar one day. 

Thanks to Claire for sharing her thoughts with us. 

Vic x

Congrats on the nomination! How did that feel?
Surreal. I was on a boat in Bratislava relaxing after submitting my second book, when instinct told me to switch on my phone. My publisher, Sara Hunt, had been trying to contact me and ultimately sent a text. With no signal or Wi-fi access – and wild imaginings as to what crisis could have precipitated the message –  I rushed ashore, found a bar with good reception and … well, luckily I was sitting down when I read her email. Needless to say, I was so giddy the rest of that day is a blur.

 

How did you feel at the awards ceremony?
Happy and humble in turn. The late Willie McIlvanney was a towering figure in Scottish literature, the founding father of Tartan Noir and the most charming and unassuming of men. To be longlisted for a prestigious award that bears his name – and that in the company of such stellar fellow nominees – validates the hard work I have put in over the past few years and is at the same time deeply humbling.

Had you read the other shortlisted books?
Almost all. I made a start when Bloody Scotland announced the longlisters – tagged The Dirty Dozen – and I am still working through the eleven other novels (I’m currently reading Jay Stringer’s How to Kill Friends and Implicate People). Familiar with the writing of the big name nominees, I started with Helen Fields and Owen Mullen, debut authors like myself. I was blown away by Perfect Remains (I thought my mind was dark till I read the gruesome torture scenes) and loved Owen’s Glasgow PI, Charlie Cameron. But my money for the McIlvanney Prize  was on Denise Mina’s The Long Drop, in part because I spent half my childhood living in Burnside at the time the Watt murders were committed there.

Tell us about your book, ‘Cross Purpose‘.
I’d developed a literary novel from my MLitt thesis, but had an early rebuff, being told domestic fiction didn’t sell. Having already written the first scene of Cross Purpose for a writing exercise, I consigned the literary novel to a drawer and decided to try my hand at crime fiction.
Set in Aberdeen, where I lived for some years, my debut novel is a departure from the norm in that its protagonists are neither experienced police professionals nor highly qualified forensic scientists, but two women ‘of a certain age’. They’re an unlikely pair: Maggie petite, conservative, conventional. Her neighbour, Wilma, is a big girl: coarse, in your face and a bit dodgy. But before your readers decide Cross Purpose is ‘cosy crime’ be warned, it’s dark. Humorous too. Think Tartan Noir meets Happy Valley.

What inspired ‘Cross Purpose‘?
I moved from Edinburgh to Aberdeen when my first child was born. Having given up a high-intensity job as a training consultant and far from friends and family, I looked for something I could do with a baby under one arm and became an antiques dealer. Then, when my son started primary school, I opened a sandwich bar. Cross Purpose was inspired by the colleagues who worked with me there, and in the spin-off catering business: women whose aspirations and self-confidence were constrained by the lack of affordable childcare. Most hadn’t had the benefit of further education, yet they rose magnificently to every challenge – and there were loads! My book is a tribute to those unsung women.

Where do you get your ideas from?
Life. As an older woman, I have plenty to write about. Aside from consultancy work, I’ve done a range of jobs: market trader, advertising copywriter, laundry maid. I’ve travelled widely: India, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Bhutan as well as Europe and USA. I’ve also had some challenging experiences: detained by soldiers in the Egyptian desert, escorted at gunpoint off an aeroplane in Beirut, given a talk to Business School students at Harvard, drunk cocktails in a private suite at The Pierre.
I’m curious. I keep my eyes and ears open, a notebook always to hand. It’s amazing what a writer can pick up.

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
George Laird’s funeral scene always makes me cry. Then I feel heaps better. If it can still move me, there’s a chance it will move my readers.
That apart, I love writing the scenes where Wilma is pushing the boundaries. It was my publisher who coined the ‘Big Wilma’ moniker. I was resistant at first, because I didn’t want Maggie’s business partner to morph into a figure of fun. I needn’t have worried. Readers have taken both protagonists to their hearts: Maggie because she’s straight as a die, Wilma for her frailties as well as her couthy humour.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
‘Make every word count.’ The advice came from the acclaimed New Zealand novelist Kirsty Gunn, my MLitt professor at the University of Dundee. Kirsty was a hard taskmaster, and some of her strictures didn’t make sense until long after I’d gained my degree. But the rigour she instilled, together with the reading list she tailored to my needs, combined to make me a better writer.

What can readers expect from your novel?
Strong characterisation. I try to draw characters my readers can readily identify with: think Maggie’s money worries, Wilma’s yo-yoing weight, their respective marital woes, their hopes and fears for their offspring.
Pared-down style. I’ve been told my writing ‘says a lot in a few words’ and ‘leaves a lot unsaid’. I set out to engage the reader, but leave room for interpretation.
Social commentary: affordable childcare, housing problems, alcohol/drug dependency to name a few.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Keep chipping away. I’m impatient by nature, but have learned the big projects take their own time.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
I love that feeling of satisfaction when you write a good sentence, or even find the right word. Problem is, you can waste time trying to fine-tune when what’s needed is to get on and write the first draft. Good advice is to circle or highlight the words that aren’t quite right and sort later.
I have a low boredom threshold, and get weary halfway through the edit, even though I know it will improve the end result.
That said, after several years and endless rewrites, it was a thrill to finally see Cross Purpose in print, even more satisfying to see it earn plaudits from book bloggers and readers.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
Burnout
, second in the Harcus & Laird series, has gone to proof and will launch in Spring 2018.
A short story will appear in the next issue of Gutter Magazine.
My literary novel has been turned on its head and may yet find a home.
My head is bursting with ideas for a police procedural into which I’m trying to insert Maggie and Wilma.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
It should be when I got offers for Cross Purpose from two separate publishers, but I must admit that scenario was eclipsed by those few minutes when, with my fellow McIlvanney Prize longlisters, I was piped across the courtyard of Stirling Castle into the Great Hall to thunderous applause.

*Rocco and the Nightingale Blog Tour* Guest Post and Review.

Rocco

In July, I was lucky enough to be invited to a party hosted by DHH Literary Agency and The Dome Press at Goldsboro Books in London. While I was there, I met all manner of wonderful people, including agents, publishers, writers and bloggers. One of those people was Adrian Magson. 

Adrian writes regularly for Writing Magazine, offering tips to writers on a range of problems they’re likely to encounter. You can also find Adrian on Twitter, his website and his blog

Prior to writing the Lucas Rocco series, Adrian wrote twenty-one books based around investigative reporter Riley Gavin and ex-Military Policeman Frank Palmer so his thoughts on how to keep a series fresh should prove insightful.

Thanks to Adrian for taking the time to share his expertise. 

Keeping a series fresh
By Adrian Magson

It was once suggested to me by a publisher that a series has a maximum of eight books before it begins to get stale. I can’t remember his exact words – I was too busy wondering if there wasn’t a hidden message in there for me, as I was on book four on my first series for him and about to begin number five. I think I nodded sagely and wiped my sweaty palms on the underneath of the tablecloth, and began to think of a new series, just in case.

Anyway, true or not – and there are authors who have proved both sides of this argument – keeping a series fresh depends on coming up with new surprises and situations for the reader. Easily done if you have a ton of ideas to call on which will stretch and test the main characters each time, but mostly you have to work at it.

For me, quite apart from new situations, it’s the characters who play a leading part. In Rocco and the Nightingale, the fifth in the Lucas Rocco series, there is a cast of regulars, some fundamental to the storylines, others more or less supporting figures. Developing the main characters’ journeys is important, but having the same names and faces is not enough; introducing new secondary players, whether baddies or goodies, does a lot to bring colour to and lift a story. In this respect, the baddies can become as strong as I like because they won’t always last beyond the end of the story unless I intend bringing them back in a later one.

That can be very useful because there are times when calling someone back – as I did in this book with Caspar, a former undercover cop in a previous book – had a specific and useful function to perform which Rocco could not. I also knew how Caspar would ‘fit’ the current story without looking as if he’d been parachuted in as a convenience.

In Rocco and the Nightingale there are two main baddies who were a lot of fun to write: Nightingale, a professional assassin, and a spotter, who sets up the kills – one of them intended to be Rocco. The main story focus is, of course, on Rocco, but bringing in the occasional scene seen from Nightingale’s perspective allows me to introduce information Rocco isn’t aware of, and I can play with these new characters in a way that wouldn’t be possible with the regular cast without making them act out of character.

And this is where a degree of freshness can come in; where you can make the baddies just that little bit wild (or even a lot wild), and hopefully readers will look forward to their scenes, because in the end they want to see them brought down… or maybe get away and live to fight another day. (And no, that’s not a spoiler).

AM

Review: ‘Rocco & the Nightingale’ by Adrian Magson. 

Rocco & the Nightingale‘ is the fifth book in the Lucas Rocco series, and I will certainly be seeking out the others. A cross between Poirot and Andrea Camilleri’s Montalbano, ‘Rocco & the Nightingale‘ contains evocative descriptions which set the tone of the novel perfectly. 

It’s 1964 and, in Picardie, a minor criminal is found stabbed to death on a country lane. It looks like a case for Inspector Rocco but he’s tasked with protecting a Gabonese minister who’s fled to France following a coup. Add into the mix the fact that a gangster with an axe to grind has put a bounty on Rocco’s head and you’ve got yourself ‘Rocco & the Nightingale‘. 

When I began reading this novel, it felt like a beautiful meander in the French countryside on a sunny day. However, what Magson excels at is juxtaposing beautiful scenery with brutal acts, switching the pace of the story within a single line.

I could see the action unfolding in my mind’s eye. Magson manages to evoke setting very well and the imagery his descriptions provoke ensured that I imagined all of the action happening through a sepia haze. Magson’s prose is pitched at the perfect level to complement this story. 

Although ‘Rocco & the Nightingale‘ is the fifth book in the Inspector Rocco series, this novel can be read as a standalone. 

Having recently read ‘Yellow Room‘ by Shelan Rodger, another novel published by The Dome Press, I have to say that this independent publisher is building an excellent reputation for publishing quality fiction. 

Vic x

*Yellow Room Blog Tour* Getting to Know Shelan Rodger.

I’m delighted to be the final stop in Shelan Rodger’s book tour for her wonderful book Yellow Room‘.

Today, we get the opportunity to get to know the author of this extraordinary novel. I’d like to thank her for taking the time to share her thoughts with us – and for writing this thought-provoking story. 

Tell us about ‘Yellow Room‘, Shelan. What inspired the novel?
The notion of personal identity intrigues me – the extent to which our sense of who we are is bound up with the culture and place we grow up in, the way we use a job or a cause or a relationship to create meaning and definition, the extent to which a single event can shape the person we turn into.

In Yellow Room, Chala’s sense of self is moulded by something that happened when she was only four – and the drama takes place when the goalposts of her reality begin to change. Although we think of twists so readily as the realm of fiction, we all face twists at times in our lives. We meet someone out of the blue and fall in love, we lose a loved one suddenly, we have a life-changing accident or illness, a buried secret breaks out into the open… These ‘twists’ can be exciting or they can be appalling, but they always cause some kind of evolution in our being – and this is the kind of thing I wanted to explore in the novel.

And secrets! Sometimes I think of life as a bank of sedimentary rock: layer upon layer of new experience compressed into a formation that looks solid from the outside yet crumbles quite easily; and secrets are like layers of sand within this rock, covering and compressing what lies below. I believe we all live with secrets of one kind or another, even if these are about truths we have repressed from ourselves… and perhaps that is why secrets hold such a peculiar fascination. In Yellow Room, the secret sands of different lives interact in ways that not even the characters involved can always see.

Where do you get your ideas from?
I don’t know how the light-bulb ever actually comes on – for me it tends to manifest in the form of an idea, which then turns into a character – but I am certainly aware of the earth it has grown in: the rather nomadic, multi-cultural mish-mash of my own life!

I was born in Nigeria, grew up in aboriginal Australia, then England, and have spent most of my adult life between Argentina, Kenya and Spain. I’m sure this has created a kind of questioning within my make-up that explains the fascination I talked about just now with personal identity and what this really means.

I think there is also a strong sense of place in my novels and that is certainly grounded in personal experience. Twin Truths, my first novel, is set in Argentina in the nineties, where I lived for nine years. Yellow Room is set in Kenya, where I was living on a flower farm in Naivasha, one of the hot spots that was hit by the post-election violence ten years ago which killed over a thousand people and turned half a million overnight into refugees within their own country. Chala’s personal drama takes place against the backdrop of these real events, and Kenya plays an active role in the story of who she becomes.

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
Mmm… a difficult question to answer. Writing a novel is a bit like having a relationship; you get to know and live with the main characters inside your head.

My relationship with Chala was conflicting at times; sometimes I just wanted to shake her, but mostly I love her honesty with herself. The twin sisters of my first novel, Twin Truths, are still close to my heart. As for scenes, I love writing scenes that I know are pivotal – those intensely emotional and significant moments that can make or break a novel.

I also love endings – both as a reader and a writer. I think endings are hugely challenging for a writer: how to create a sense of emotional closure that is satisfying but not trite, how to keep the door open for the novel and the future of its characters to linger in the mind of the reader, in a way that is somehow thought-provoking without being manipulative. Yellow Room has two endings in a way: the last page for Chala, and the epilogue, which is told from the viewpoint of another character, and I really felt the last lines when I was writing these.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
My father’s words: ‘Just get it out and suspend judgement until later.’ My father was a poet and a non-fiction writer and these were his words of advice when I was writing my first novel. I’ve never forgotten them. Let it out, get it out. And then, only then, let the jury in and edit and rewrite as much as you need to, but first just pour it all onto the page.

What can readers expect from ‘Yellow Room’?
If I have achieved what I aspired to, the book is compelling and thought-provoking. A drama that explores the power of secrets, the shifting sands of our sense of personal identity, the grey areas that flow between the boundaries of relationships. A poignant insight into the reality of poverty in Kenya and the events that took over a thousand lives ten years ago. Kenya has its own secrets, which are still unfolding today.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
I think I would simply share my father’s words again. They had a profoundly liberating effect on me and I believe creativity is an act of liberation. The attempt to connect with the reader is at its heart, I believe, something deeply intuitive not learnt. Trust your intuition first, question it later.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
It doesn’t happen all the time of course, but what I love most are those special moments when you lose track of time and it becomes almost a form of meditation, with words seeming to flow through you rather than from you. There is something earthy and connected and grounding in that feeling. To be honest there is nothing I really dislike about writing because the different phases, for example editing, are all part of the process of creation. The thing I am most wary of, as you can see from some of my answers, is the monkey that sits in judgement on your shoulder if you let it, sneering and undermining your confidence!

Are you writing anything at the moment?
Yes, I am working on my third novel, which is another psychological twisty tale, also set in Kenya (but this time on a flying safari). It’s inspired by something that happened two weeks before my father died: he found a novel he’d forgotten he’d written, read it, changed the last line and gave it to me. I never saw him again. In the book, a box of writing by the father she never knew falls into the hands of a drama therapist called Elisa and takes her to Kenya, where a twist presents the one person from her past she never wanted to meet again.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
I was driving along a pot-holed road in Kenya to my parents’ house for lunch. The lake filled my view to the horizon as it always did; pelicans and flamingos dipped below me to the water’s edge. But that day the lake looked different. The news I’d just received made everything feel different. Someone – a person who was to become very important and dear to me – wanted to be my agent. Suddenly, the possibility of being what I wanted to be was real, stretching like the lake below me to the horizon. That is the moment I think I would single out, a moment full of hope and beauty, a moment – ironically – intimately connected with my own personal sense of identity.

Review: ‘Yellow Room’
by Shelan Rodger.

What I’m about to say may come as a surprise. ‘Yellow Room‘ is currently a hot contender for my book of 2017. 

Having lived the majority of her life in the shadow of a tragic childhood accident, Chala is shaken by the death of her stepfather who steadfastly supported her throughout. In the midst of this emotional turmoil, Chala decides to volunteer at an orphanage in Kenya. Despite providing Chala with the opportunity to re-evaluate her life, the country remains on the brink of violence and horror. 

Shelan Rodger has deftly created a truly compelling novel featuring complex yet empathetic characters. The author really understands the nuances and complexities of human behaviour and her insights are weaved skillfully into her characters, bringing them to life. 

Yellow Room’ contains everything I could possibly want from a novel: evocative descriptions, well-written characters and an exploration of how power shifts in both personal and political relationships.

Despite being a story that delves deeper than most, ‘Yellow Room‘ is incredibly readable. I honestly did not want to put this book down. Part of me wanted to stay with the characters in this book forever. 

From the opening page, I was hooked by ‘Yellow Room‘ and I suspect that the story will stay with me for a very long time. 

Vic x