Tag Archives: writer

Review: ‘Block 46’ by Johana Gustawsson

The mutilated corpse of a jewellery designer is discovered in a harbour in a Swedish marina while a young boy’s body is found in London with similar wounds around the same time. Emily Roy, a Canadian profiler on loan to Scotland Yard, begins to investigate the case alongside French true crime writer Alexis Castells. As the story continues, Roy and Castells uncover evidence to suggest that there may be a link between these murders and the Buchenwald Concentration Camp.

Written by Johana Gustawsson, and translated into English by Maxim Jakubowski, Block 46 is a tense thriller which unravels slowly but masterfully. The chapters are choppy and keep the plot moving along nicely. The language used throughout the book is beautiful which juxtaposes the violence of the murders well.

The plot is utterly intriguing and I can see how the partnership of Roy and Castells could be turned into a successful series – there are plenty of narrative strands that could be explored further.

When I saw Johana Gustawsson talk about Block 46 at Newcastle Noir, I saw that the subject had deeply affected her and I couldn’t wait to read this book. The fact that Gustawsson has weaved present-day narratives with an historical element makes this a really unique novel. A must-read.

Vic x

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

Getting to Know You: Tana Collins

tana-flyer

It’s my pleasure today to welcome Tana Collins on the penultimate stop of her blog tour. I met Tana at the first Edinburgh Noir at the Bar and I’m thrilled that she’s appearing at the Newcastle NatB tonight. 

Tana’s novel ‘Robbing the Dead‘ was released by Bloodhound Books earlier this month and is available to buy now. 

Thanks to Tana for taking the time to answer my questions. If you’re near the Town Wall tonight, pop in – it’s free entry – and promises to be a criminally good night. 

Vic x

Tana

Welcome to the blog, Tana. Tell us about your debut novel.
Robbing the Dead‘ is the first novel in the Inspector Jim Carruthers series set in the picturesque East Neuk of Fife.

robbing-the-dead

What inspired it?
Although it’s a work of fiction the inspiration for the novel comes from a true event that occurred in the early 1970s. I don’t want to say too much and give away any spoilers but it’s a tragic event that impacted on many people’s lives and still to this day continues to do so. I felt that whilst most of us have heard about the event very few know some of the details that make this story so human. I felt there was still a story to be told. 

Where do you get your ideas from?
Like most writers I have an inquisitive nature and am fascinated by people. I observe, listen and ask lots of questions. I decided my main cop, Inspector Jim Carruthers, should live in Anstruther in Fife. Early on into writing ‘Robbing the Dead‘ my partner and I went there for a long weekend so I could do some research. We walked in to the Dreel Tavern which I had reckoned might be Carruthers’ watering hole. I decided I needed to engage with the locals so I went up to the bar on my own with my drink and slapped a notebook and pen down. Within minutes a local had sidled up and asked me in a suspicious voice what I was doing. He had decided I was a tax inspector! That could end up a story in itself! I told him I was a writer and that the Dreel was going to be my main character’s favourite pub. I then asked him rather cheekily what he had to hide thinking I was a tax inspector! Within minutes half a dozen folk had come over telling me their stories of Anstruther, including the story of the resident pub ghost!

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
My main character is a male police inspector, DCI Jim Carruthers. One of my female friends indignantly asked me why my inspector wasn’t a woman. I replied that I wanted Carruthers to be a man. He was always going to be a man and he’s still my favourite character, although DS Andrea Fletcher, as his assistant, is definitely starting to come in to her own. Interestingly, now I’ve written three books, I’ve noticed that more of my personality has gone in to Jim Carruthers but more of my life experiences in to Andrea Fletcher.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?The best piece of advice came from crime writer Peter Robinson. He was talking about writer’s block. He said that often writer’s block occurs because you are in the head of the wrong character in that particular scene. This piece of advice has served me well.

What can readers expect from your books?
Fast paced action and plenty of it! ‘Robbing the Dead‘ has been described as an ‘edge of your seat’ crime thriller. All three books start with a murder, if not in the first scene, definitely very early on and the death count just continues to rise. I like to write interesting stories often based on historical or contemporary events with political overtones. But I also like to have strong and believable characters that my readers will be able to engage with!

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Don’t give up! I can’t tell you how close ‘Robbing the Dead‘ came to ending up in the knicker drawer. And the truth of it is that early on it just wasn’t good enough to be published. It had two massive rewrites and I’m delighted I persevered. Ten years later with three books under my belt I started to approach publishing companies and landed a three book deal with Bloodhound Books. It was officially published on 14th February and I have been thrilled by the reviews! Read everything you can get your hands on in your genre. Hang out with other writers. Critique each other’s work. Go to book festivals. Last bit of advice would be get yourself a good editor before approaching publishers.

How do you feel about appearing at Noir at the Bar?
This will be my second Noir at the Bar event and I’m very excited. Like most writers I love to talk about my book and I love to meet readers and other writers. I feel honoured to be invited to speak and share a excerpt from my debut novel. I’m also looking forward to hearing other writers, new and well established, speak.

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What do you like and dislike about writing?
There is nothing that makes me happier than being given a blank piece of paper at the start of writing a novel. I love crafting a story and developing the characters. I also enjoy the research. I don’t do much drafting as I like to watch the novel evolve organically which can be dangerous. The worst? The crippling bouts of self- doubt during the writing process! 

Are you writing anything at the moment?
I’m just about to start an edit on the second novel, ‘Care to Die’, which is being published on 25th April 2017. The third novel, ‘Mark of the Devil’, is currently with my first reader. I’m contemplating a fourth book in the series so there’s a few ideas swirling around in my head.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
I think it has to be meeting my all time hero, Peter Robinson, on a writing course given by him in Tallinn. It was thrilling receiving tuition from someone who was also writing his latest Inspector Banks story which needed to be set in a European city! When ‘Watching the Dark‘ was finally published we found out that, as his students, we were all named in the acknowledgements! A wonderful moment.

Review of 2016: Ever Dundas

That very well-connected Shelley Day not only introduced us to Catherine Simpson t’other day, but she’s also encouraged the fab Ever Dundas to be a part of our 2016 review.

Thanks for being a part of it, Ever! 

Vic x

ever-and-jenny-signing-freight-contract

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
It has to be my agent calling me to say Freight Books had put in an offer for my novel ‘Goblin‘. Weirdly, the first person I told about it was Terry Gilliam. I’d received the call just as I was rushing out to see him unveil the Don Quixote quote for Edinburgh City of Literature’s Words on the Street. By the time I got there it was all over, but I knew he was heading back to London so I impulsively jumped on his train and possibly maybe babbled at the poor man. It just felt like a strange kind of serendipity, as his film ‘Tideland‘ was an influence on ‘Goblin‘ and it felt amazing to be able to tell him that. ‘Time Bandits‘ also played a part in my love of storytelling when I was a kid.

I was also thrilled when it was confirmed that my husband would be designing the cover for ‘Goblin‘ (which will be revealed in the new year).

terry-ever

And how about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
A holiday to Oxford and London with my husband. In Oxford we visited locations where the film ‘Accident‘ was filmed. I’m a big Dirk Bogarde fan, so walking in his footsteps felt amazing and a little melancholy.

Another highlight was visiting Kensal Green Cemetery in London. Part of my novel is set in WWII London when my protagonist, Goblin, is a kid. She spends a lot of time in Kensal Green Cemetery and I’d researched it online – reading about it, looking at photographs and maps. I was worried it would disappoint, but it was perfect. I actually got goosebumps – I could clearly see Goblin and her dog Devil running round the cemetery.

Making it down to Oxford and London felt like a real achievement too. I have fibromyalgia (chronic pain and exhaustion) and my world had shrunk because of it. I was quite anxious about travelling, but I implemented some coping strategies (pacing, using a wheelchair off and on) I learned on a Pain Course and it worked. It was a struggle, but it was manageable. It’s still not easy for me to get around, but my world has opened up again.

ever-in-kensal-green-cemetery

Favourite book in 2016?
I re-read ‘Annihilation‘ by Jeff VanderMeer for book group and loved it all over again – it’s unnerving, disturbing and beautiful. Definitely one I’ll keep returning to.

If ‘Annihilation‘ is one of the best novels I’ve read, ‘The Lonely City‘ by Olivia Laing is one of the best non-fiction books I’ve had the pleasure to immerse myself in; a brilliant incisive book that faces the taboo of loneliness head-on.

I was going to mention Naomi Alderman’s novel ‘The Power‘, but I’ve written about that elsewhere, so instead I’ll highlight my favourite short story of 2016 – Ted Chiang’s ‘Story of Your Life‘ (the Denis Villenueve film ‘Arrival‘ was based on it). I stumbled across this truly stunning, well-crafted story in a sci-fi omnibus. It’s a fascinating slow-burner that’s both a cerebral and an emotional journey and it blew me away.

Favourite film in 2016?
Without a doubt, it has to be ‘High Rise‘. I’m a JG Ballard fan and this felt like the perfect adaptation of his novel. Amy Jump and Ben Wheatley really brought the novel to life, injecting it with wry humour. The acting was all superb (if I was to cast my fantasy movie version of ‘Goblin‘ it would include most of the cast from ‘High Rise‘) and the design was delicious. It’s a very relevant film, and Portishead’s melancholy SOS sums up how many people feel about 2016.

I also adore Karyn Kusama’s ‘The Invitation‘, which seriously creeped me out. The less you know about it the better – just get your hands on it.

Favourite song of the year?
I’ve had Sia’s ‘Elastic Heart‘ on repeat. The video with Maddie Ziegler and Shia LaBeouf is very powerful.

Any downsides for you in 2016?
The world is on fire.

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
Use social media differently. I find it sucks up too much of my headspace – I need more time to think.

What are you hoping for from 2017?
My first novel, ‘Goblin‘, comes out in 2017 and I’m hoping it will do well enough for me to continue in my career as a writer.

I hope I can help put out the 2016 fire in any small way I can. I will raise awareness of disability and chronic illness and how broken and needlessly punitive the benefits system is. I will work to eradicate speciesism and I will be a voice that celebrates difference, multiplicity and complexity. As Joanna Bourke said, here’s to “being more than human.”

Review of 2016: Matt Wesolowski

Over the past twelve months, my path has crossed with Matt Wesolowski’s on a few occasions. Matt is an author from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and he leads Cuckoo Young Writers creative writing workshops for young people in association with New Writing North. 

Matt’s debut novella ‘The Black Land‘, a horror set on the Northumberland coast, was published in 2013 by Blood Bound Books and he’s had lots of stories published in anthologies and magazines. Wesolowski was a winner of the Pitch Perfect competition at ‘Bloody Scotland’; Crime Writing Festival 2015, his subsequent debut crime novel ‘Six Stories‘ is available through Orenda Books.

Thanks for reviewing your year for us, Matt!

Vic x

Matt

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
It has to be in May when I got the confirmation that my novel ‘Six Stories‘ was to be published by Orenda. Being published on a scale like this has been my dream ever since I can remember and even now, it still doesn’t quite feel real. I remember my legs turning to jelly…they still do if i think about it too much!

Six Stories

My favourite moment generally was seeing my son starting to learn to read. Watching him and helping him recognise words is such a privilege – he’s only five and has got a way to go but I can see the doors to a wonderful world gradually opening before him, a world that has given me such pleasure. I’m reading him Jo Nesbo’s ‘Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder‘ books at the minute. He can try Nesbo’s crime stuff when he’s a bit older!

Favourite book in 2016?
I’m in no way biased toward Orenda but they released a stunning book this year called ‘The Bird Tribunal‘ by Norwegian author Agnes Ravatn – the work is simply stunning; it reminded me of Tarjei Vesaas in its rustic poetry. I also was deeply impressed and influenced by Benjamin Myers’ ‘Turning Blue‘ – a really desolate rural thriller as well as ‘The Girls‘ by Emma Cline which is beautifully written and hold you in a vice grip until the end.

Favourite song of the year?
I listen to so much music when I’m writing, a mixture of ambience and atmospheric black metal so in that sense, individual songs often don’t stick out.

I did get into Chelsea Wolfe a lot this year –  she’s a sort of doom-folk singer. ‘Simple Death‘ off her Abyss album is just wonderfully melancholic and bleak…are you noticing a theme in these answers yet?

Favourite film in 2016?
The Witch‘ was hands down my favourite film this year. It’s set in the 17th century with this banished family of Christians trying to tame the wilds of an unforgiving forest and hindered by their own puritanical fear of the unknown. I adored the way the dialogue was lifted from genuine witch trials and of course the character of Black Philip – a goat – stole the show. It was a difficult and tense watch, genuinely unsettling.

Any downsides for you in 2016?
I feel really strongly about animal rights, especially factory farming; it’s not common knowledge that ‘mega-dairies’ are operating in this country in 2016 – huge industrial complexes which allow the cows zero outdoor grazing. For such beautiful animals to be treated this way is just diabolical.

With so much scientific advancement from our species, it makes me sad that we still think it acceptable to treat other sentient creatures as products. For example, it baffles me when a company like McDonald’s brag about having free range eggs yet the chickens they farm for meat are still kept in inhumane and unspeakable conditions.  When someone gets on the bus with a bucket of KFC, the smell makes me want to vomit.

Under a Conservative government, for whom killing animals for fun is a pastime, it won’t be long until the pox that is fox hunting will return to our lands.

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
I don’t ever make resolutions at new year; I’m my own harshest critic all year round…that part of my brain nags me to be a better father and a more productive writer today!

What are you hoping for from 2017?
I really hope to see more reading in 2017…I’d love to see more people enjoying books rather than social media. There’s this wonderful tradition in Iceland called Jólabókaflóðið which roughly translates as ‘Christmas book flood’ and people give each other books on Christmas eve and spend the evening reading. It’d be wonderful if we could spread that tradition worldwide.

Review of 2016: Catherine Simpson

Friend of the blog, Shelley Day recommended the lovely Catherine Simpson to review her 2016. It’s always fun to find new authors and, from what I’ve been told, Catherine is definitely one to watch! You can find Catherine on Twitter and at her website.

Thanks for being involved in the 2016 review, Catherine – hope to host you again soon! 

Vic x

Catherine Simpson

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
My novel Truestory came out late 2015 with Sandstone Press so the first half of 2016 was largely spent promoting it and there were some great moments, including appearing at Aye Write in Glasgow, having my own event at the National Library of Scotland and sharing an event at Edinburgh Central Library with my daughter, Nina, for Autism Awareness Week (Nina is autistic and it was raising her that inspired my novel).

This year I also mentored two young writers for the Scottish Book Trust’s fantastic ‘What’s Your Story’ project and I was honoured to work with Artlink Edinburgh to write about the experiences of autistic people for the Midlothian autism strategy.

Central Library event

These are all happy professional memories but probably the most surreal memory was in February arriving at Hawthornden Castle in Midlothian for a writing fellowship and standing in my tiny castle bedroom overlooking the old keep, which was glittering with frost, knowing I was to share this amazing place with five strangers for a month.

Aye Write

And how about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
This year my husband and I pulled off a long-standing plan – to get our younger daughter settled at university and then move back into Edinburgh city centre from out of town. It went like clockwork. Lara moved to Glasgow to begin her degree in Education on the Monday and we moved to a flat right in the heart of the city on the Thursday.

Favourite book in 2016?
I’ve been getting more and more interested in poetry this year and have been rather pre-occupied with the subject of death so I have particularly appreciated Undying, by Michel Faber and The Drift by Hannah Lavery. 

the-drift

Favourite film in 2016?
I tend to watch films years after they come out – I recently watched Capote (2005) about the selfish, obsessive Truman Capote and how he came to write In Cold Blood. I also saw Little Voice (1998, for goodness sake!) about a young girl obsessed with 1950s/60s singers – a character that my daughter pointed out was autistic.

Favourite song of the year?
Not new either but Wanted on Voyage by George Ezra was stuck in my car CD for the first six months of the year.

Any downsides for you in 2016?
The never-ending terrorist attacks have been shocking.

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
I love nothing more than to set a goal or two at this time of year.

During 2016 I completed the first draft of what I hope will be my next book – a memoir about the suicide of my sister. In 2017 I plan to rework it into a final version.

I will also write a series of smaller pieces inspired by Dunbar to perform at Coastword Festival.

What are you hoping for from 2017?
I am looking forward to seeing my novel Truestory translated into Danish and published in Denmark.

I am Creative Writing Fellow for Tyne & Esk Writers until March 2017 – and I look forward to supporting the very talented and dedicated writers in the groups.

I am also delighted to be a Writer in Residence at Coastword Festival – a small but perfectly formed festival of music and word – to be held in Dunbar in May 2017. I hope for a sunny weekend shared with lots of super-talented artists of all kinds.

Review of 2016: Angela Readman

I’ve been so spoiled this December and the advent treats continue: today award-winning writer Angela Readman is here to review her year.

As always, it’s a pleasure to host Angela. Thanks for being involved, Angela!

Vic x

Angela Readman

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
The beginning of the year was wonderful professionally. I won The Mslexia Short Story Prize, and on the same day I found out my short story collection ‘Don’t Try This at Home (And other Stories)’ had been shortlisted in The Edgehill Prize. I didn’t win, but it was an honour to get so far. It’s a lot more than I imagined. I also won the Fish Short Memoir Competition which was something new for me, I’ve never tried memoir before. I sent it out as an experiment to see if just writing about me was OK.

This was also the year I published poetry again, my collection ‘The Book of Tides’ came out with Nine Arches in November. It has been so long since my last one it meant more to me than I can say.

7e84913ff0-the-book-of-tides-cover-web

And how about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
I really want to have one, but I’m struggling. 2016 seems like the year the world got meaner I don’t want to think it’s just the way we are as a species, so I suppose my favourite thing has been little articles about kindness that pop us sometimes. Someone walking into a school and paying all the unpaid balances on school meals, pay it forward, communities coming together to support people, groups that yarn bomb places to try and make someone smile- that sort of stuff. It’s small, but it gives me hope for us.

Favourite book in 2016?
I don’t get a lot of books during the year, I have to wait until Christmas, but I loved Shelley Day’s novel ‘The Confession of Stella Moon‘. Alice Oswald’s ‘Falling Awake‘ was a poetry collection that impressed me. Every year I try to read some books I’ve never got around to before. I was blown away by Shirley Jackson and read Carson Mccullers for the the first time this year. ‘The Ballad of the Sad Cafe‘ is something I know I’ll be reading every year or so for the rest of my life.

Favourite film in 2016?
I loved ‘Dark Horse‘. It’s a documentary about a bunch of ordinary people who come together to buy a racehorse. I loved seeing people live out a dream, however unlikely it is. I also loved ‘The Lobster‘, so strange, sad and unsettling. It’s such a powerful story of conformity and its costs.

Favourite song of the year?
I was stunned by Lorde’s cover of ‘Life on Mars‘. She did it her own way,  it was a remarkable, respectful and fitting tribute.

Any downsides for you in 2016?
Politics, hatred, a lack of tolerance and failure to accept other people seems to be wherever I turn. It feels like this is on the increase, it’s been a sad and worrying year. On a career level, I’m in a curious place of working hard, but so much of it seems to be dealing with admin. It’s one of the things no one tells you I think, that once you’re published there can be less chance to write sometimes. It’s just part of the job, it’s part of life these days I suppose. I haven’t found a way to do it without working longer hours.  I dream of retreats and walks by the sea while I work at weekends to catch up with mail.

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
I start each year hoping to keep writing. I also like to form a reading resolution, sometimes it will be read a poem a day, sometimes it’s read a short story a day, or make an effort to read more work by small presses, it depends. I haven’t decided exactly yet, but there’s always a book resolution. Last year’s was to finally read Roald Dahl’s short stories.

What are you hoping for from 2017?
I really hope people are going to like my poetry collection. I hope to keep my publisher happy. I hope we can all be kinder. I hope we can be happier. I hope to be better.