Tag Archives: writing

Review: ‘Educated’ by Tara Westover

What is it to be educated? Is it to have spent every day of your life from the age of four until the age of twenty-one in a classroom? Is it the ability to read and write? How about being able to reflect deeply on your own personal experiences? 

Tara Westover was not educated in the way one might expect. She did not have school records. In fact, she didn’t have medical records. Tara Westover didn’t even have a birth certificate – officially, she didn’t exist. Tara grew up in Idaho with a father who didn’t trust in intervention.

From the moment she was born, Tara was to be taught to prepare for the End of Days. Her mother ‘home-schooled’ Tara and some of her siblings while their father proselytised about the dangers posed by doctors, teachers, government and law enforcement.

At the age of sixteen, Tara decided to educate herself. That decision took her to Harvard and then to Cambridge.

Having recently heard Tara talk at Forum Books about her experiences growing up a Mormon with an increasingly radical father and erratic brother, I was moved by the erudite way in which she spoke about her unusual childhood and her decision to make a change in her life.

Educated‘ is a beautifully written memoir. Westover’s prose is almost lyrical, featuring evocative descriptions of the rolling hills. Her gorgeous writing is juxtaposed with the terror I felt when reading about some of the things she had lived through. At times, the events were so out of my sphere of understanding, I had to check online that this was a memoir and not fiction! 

Throughout ‘Educated‘, there is a sense of not quite knowing what will happen next. At times, the tension was almost too much to bear. Westover masterfully allows the reader to tread the fine line she walked on a daily basis. There is also a feeling of sadness and grief that pervades this memoir. Ultimately, though, ‘Educated‘ is a hopeful book about the power of taking control and never giving up. 

Tara Westover is my hero.

Vic x

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Don’t Quit the Day Job: Glenda Young

Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

A couple of years ago, I went on a writing course in York hosted by ‘The People’s Friend’ magazine. On that course, I met Glenda Young. Since then, Glenda’s career has sky-rocketed – and there are few people who deserve it more than her.

Glenda is here to share a very personal story with us. I’d like to thank Glenda for her honesty. I hope her story inspires many of you.

Vic x

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I didn’t quit my day job, it quit me. 

Sort of. 

It made me really ill. Stress-induced panic attacks, anxiety eating away at me for months. Not sleeping, worrying myself sick about going to work in a job that was making me desperately unhappy. Something had to give. Something had to snap. Unfortunately, it was my mind. 

I called in sick. I thought I’d be all right after a duvet day. I wasn’t. I thought I’d go back the following week. I didn’t. I couldn’t. Weeks turned into months and I still wasn’t right. 

With the help of the NHS I underwent counselling and therapy which helped more than I can tell.  I began to recover. HR were on the phone, wondering when I was coming back. I decided not to return, handed in my notice and left, determined never to put myself through the stress of being in the wrong job ever again in my life. 

Even just thinking about that dark time at the end of 2014, early 2015 I feel my shoulders tense, my jaw grind and my blood pressure rise.

So what was the right job for me, I wondered? Well, I’d always loved writing and had earned money over the years from writing online and for ITV in my spare time. I’d put the word ‘writer’ down on my tax return every year so why not call myself a writer full-time?  Why not … I gulped … give it a try? A proper try? No playing about this time. And so, I changed my twitter profile to say I was a writer.  I announced it to the world. And now there was only one thing I needed to do: 

Write.

In autumn 2015 I joined a creative writing class at Sunderland Women’s Centre, it was a real back to basics writing class, all about expressing emotion and feeling in your work, using your senses. I loved it. I submitted a short story to The People’s Friend magazine and fell off my chair when they emailed to say they wanted to buy it. I wrote another, and another…. 

Over two years on from having that first short story published in a woman’s magazine I’ve had short stories published in three different women’s magazines and have been commissioned by The People’s Friend to write the first ever weekly soap opera for the magazine in its 150 year history. It’s an honour and a privilege to have been asked – and a real joy to write. 

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I’ve also won a local short story competition, been placed second in a national short story competition and been shortlisted and longlisted in various others. My work has been published in anthologies. And the unexpected happened too – I’ve done things I would never have dared while working in my past jobs. I’ve spoken, in public, in front of people. It’s terrifying, but by god, I enjoyed it. 

And the best bit of all, the bit that I am still on cloud nine about, that I still can’t believe is real… I’ve been signed to a literary agent who has sold my debut novel to Headline. I’ve been signed up by Headline on a three-novel deal with my debut novel Belle of the Back Streets published in November 2018.

Being diagnosed with anxiety and mental health problems has changed my life. For the better.  Yes, I still get anxious. Yes, I still get chewed up in knots over the most simple of thing. But – excuse the cliché please – I’ve learned that it really is OK to not be OK. 

It’s horrible, but it’s OK. 

As a full-time writer, of course I have less money coming in than when I was in a salaried role. There’s no pension, no security, just a blank screen that stares at me every morning. It’s a battle to write some days, but once I get going… oh, once I get going.  And I wouldn’t swap it for the world.

I am happy. 

I am a writer.

A year on…

One year and one day ago, I woke early and looked at Twitter – horrified by the news from Manchester Arena. I spent the day with friends, counting my blessings.

It was a gloriously sunny day and, as more news emerged about the victims, I reflected on how I’d feel if someone I loved had been involved. How would you feel if you’d had an argument then never got the chance to make up? Or, perhaps worse in some respects, you’d parted on perfectly fine terms but never got to tell them how much you loved or respected them?

That was when I decided to start writing to friends for no other reason than to tell them how much I loved them. My friend Emily, who moved home to the US, and I had been corresponding the old-fashioned way for a little while but that attack in Manchester made me realise that although I spend lots of time with my friends, I don’t tell them how much I appreciate them – because it’s implied. Well, I decided to make it explicit.

All we seem to get in the post these days (oh, how I’m showing my age) is bills and junk but when someone receives a heartfelt message in the post, it makes them feel valued. Ever since then, I’ve sent card and postcards and letters in the post and the feedback I’ve had has been lovely. People have reciprocated, of course, which was never the plan – I but it is a glorious feeling, knowing someone has taken the time to think about you then put pen to paper.

To me, a letter (or postcard or even an email) shows that the writer has thought about this. They have not just hugged you because you were standing in front of them, they are writing to you because they were thinking of you when you weren’t even with them. They have taken time out of their day to write to you.

I am not a tactile person – quite the opposite, in fact – but I am able to express myself with words far better than I ever could face-to-face. On the odd occasion that I found myself on the wrong side of my parents when I was a child, I would write a letter to apologise. Weird, I know.

I know some people wouldn’t feel able to express themselves fully through writing. To this I say: choose whatever works for you and do it.

Emma Whitehall once said to me that Elementary Sisterhood was partly borne out out of the support she had felt from receiving messages of support and encouragement through the post.

Yesterday, I had a massive wobble. Something inconsequential happened but it really threw me for a loop. However, when I messaged the sisterhood to tell them, the words of love and understanding I received heartened me. The people – in the sisterhood and beyond – who rushed to tell me what they felt for me and how I’d helped them really made me see the positive impact I’ve had on others.

So, in short, the message of this post is: if you feel something, say something.

Vic x

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Paul Harrison

Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

It’s my privilege to welcome Paul Harrison to the blog today to talk about how his work in the criminal justice system has influenced his writing. If Paul’s post catches your interest, drop him a tweet or look him up on Facebook

Vic x

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Thanks for inviting me to speak on the blog. For me, bloggers are one of the most influential part of being a writer these days, so I’m well chuffed to be here talking about my previous life. I’ve been called Britain’s Mindhunter by the world’s media, because of my work with serial killers. However, I much prefer to be Paul Harrison, not some media invention.

When I joined the police service back in the late 1970’s, never, did I anticipate that my working life would be so exciting and filled with mainly positives, there have been a few negatives, but I’ve learned from those. Anyone who believes the British police force is behind its global counterparts, is wrong. I have over a century of policing within the family tree, my grandfather, father, myself and currently my son have been so employed. Even my great grandfather was so employed. Back in Victorian times he was probably the first criminal profiler in history. He’d hang about with criminals and felons and draw up social profiles on the in an attempt to understand who likely victims were likely to be, then he’d sell that intelligence on to the police. He was a big writer and storyteller, so his genes have definitely been passed down to me.

My own police career lasted over three decades and I was fortunate to serve in just about all the specialised fields I aimed for: Dog Handler, Firearms Officer on Special Escort Duties, Promotion, Intelligence Officer and of course, much later, my association with the FBI and profiling. I worked hard to get where I wanted to be, and advise everyone, no matter what they are doing to follow their dreams.

I began writing during my police career, mainly true crime books but the odd football book also crept into print too. These were the days before e-books so it was traditional publishing only, it was difficult trying to sell manuscripts to publishers and hold down a regular job.  I was lucky, I guess, and managed to get seven books published during my time in the police.

When I retired from the job I went to work with the Judiciary at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. What an eye-opener that was! Seeing the criminal justice system from the other side, was shocking. Needless to say, I often questioned judgments and tariffs handed down to serious (vile) offenders. I didn’t last long, and I moved on after a couple of years. I took up work in the voluntary sector, helping child victims and survivors of sexual harm. The scale of the matter was shocking and I set up my own service, called SAM (Systematic Abuse of Males) as a signposting agency directing victims to services in their area. As a result of this I was awarded the Outstanding Individual of the Year Award for my voluntary work in this arena.

All the time I was writing, more true crime and finally I went full time, and have moved onto novels. I’m so proud to be part of the Urbane Books team and have just signed a contract with them that I hope will last several years. Of all the publishers I’ve worked with in my time as a writer, covering thirty four books, Urbane Books stand out head and shoulders above the rest for their care and attention to detail. They like great writers, but are focused on producing quality books for the reader. 

Over the years, I’ve met some of the world’s worst killers, looked evil in the eye and confronted it. Nerve wracking stuff, however, let me tell you, there’s nothing more worrying than waiting for a publisher’s response to a book submission.

Writing has been incredibly cathartic for me, as is the sense of support that runs throughout most of the crime writing community. There’s a lot more books in me yet, and my fictional detective, Will Scott (named after my grandfather) will go on to endure many more adventures.

**The Kindness of Strangers Blog Tour**

kindness strangers.jpgOooh, hello there, readers. Allow me to share with you an excerpt from ‘The Kindness of Strangers‘ by Julie Newman. 

When Helen’s chance at happiness is threatened, what lengths will she go to in order to hide the truth? Deceived by her husband and desperate for a ‘perfect’ family life, Helen will do everything she can to get the life she wants.

Following the gripping and controversial ‘Beware the Cuckoo‘, Julie Newman’s new novel lifts the lid on family secrets, and the dark past that haunts a seemingly happy household…

Vic x

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The Kindness of Strangers

EACH NEW SUNRISE does not just herald a new day, it is a new beginning offering new possibilities and the opportunity to be better than before. That’s what I always used to believe. It was the mantra of my boss when I first started working in the city. But now, well now it sounds like a pretentious soundbite that has no validity in the real world, certainly not in my world. Every day is the same for me. There is a brief moment when I first wake when I’ve forgotten he’s gone, then boom, it hits me and the darkness descends once more. Today is no different. Perhaps if I still worked my focus would be on what I have to do rather than what I can no longer do. Maybe that’s the answer, to go back to work; but where? Marilyn has replaced me and I couldn’t go back at a lower level than before. There are other firms, but would they be interested in a 56 year-old woman who’s been out of the game for almost eighteen months? I know I wouldn’t employ me and I know how good I am. Even if I considered a junior position I’d be competing with a new crop of graduates and interns. And besides, there is still more to do here; papers, accounts, and all the interests we pursued together. I must cancel our golf club subscription for a start; I won’t be going there alone and I never liked playing much anyway.

The study is incredibly stuffy. I’ve opened the window but that hasn’t made a great deal of difference. I think I’m going to take  some of these files and sit in the garden and sort through them. I make a pot of tea and go outside. It’s surprising how many things we signed up for over the years and more surprising is the fact that I’d forgotten we had them. Our joint account has already been dealt with, as have a couple of accounts that Robert had. But what I’m looking at now is an old account of mine that I haven’t paid attention to for a long time. I transfer money into it each month to cover the direct debits, but I don’t use half the things I’m paying for. This is the downside of not receiving paper statements anymore, I’m rather remiss at checking my accounts online. This is the account that the golf membership comes out of; I write down the account and membership numbers so I can cancel it. There are also a couple of magazine subscriptions, a consumer group subscription and insurances for appliances which I don’t even know if I still have. I write down the relevant information so I can cancel them all. When I’m done I pour another cup of tea – well half a cup as the pot is almost empty – sit back in my chair and look around the garden. Somebody comes to cut the lawn every couple of weeks, everything else in the garden Robert and I do, or did. Well Robert mainly. I suppose I’ll have to get on with it myself now, not that it takes much, it is quite a low maintenance garden. We had a designer revamp it many years ago, and her brief was simple; it had to be full of colour and easy to maintain. It certainly is that, although parts of it are looking a little neglected. The roses catch my eye, they need dead-heading. I go back into the kitchen for a pair of scissors. As I take them out of the drawer I picture Robert standing in the garden waving a pair of secateurs at me and saying, ‘the right tool for the job, Helen’. I smile to myself; a nice memory.

It takes me a little while to locate the shed key. For some reason it’s in a small pot at the rear of one of the dresser drawers, instead  of hanging with the garage and summer-house keys in the kitchen. I unlock the shed hoping the secateurs will be easier to find. I never go in the shed, it was Robert’s domain. He liked to sit in there and read; he complained the summer house was too hot, something that never bothered me. I’m pretty sure he used to have a bottle of whisky hidden away in there too. The door creaks a little as it opens and warm air is emitted from within. It smells stale and fusty. It’s clearly in need of ventilating. I pull the door wide, putting a large terracotta pot in front of it to keep it open. I peek in before actually venturing inside; Robert’s old chair sits proudly in the centre, there is a work bench to the right on which sits several pots of various sizes, a couple of gardening books – maybe he did read them after all – and the secateurs. I pick them up and look around the rest of the shed; there is a lot of stuff in here, another thing to sort through in time. As I turn to go back out something catches my eye. It’s the old picnic blanket we used many years ago, I thought it had long since been thrown out. We enjoyed going for picnics, although to be honest they weren’t really picnics. We would head out somewhere for the day, weather permitting of course, and find a nice spot and put the blanket down. We would lay and read for a while; I always took a flask of tea, something for Robert to drink and a few snacks. On the way back we would look for a nice country pub and have a meal before heading home. I pull at the blanket which is draped over something, as it comes off it reveals an old, battered filing cabinet. It’s made of metal, grey in colour and mottled with rust spots. I pull open the top drawer; inside are two glasses and an almost empty bottle of whisky, an unopened bottle of whisky, a box of matches and a half-smoked cigar, and various bits and pieces that include garden ties and string and plant labels. I try the next one but that won’t open. There is a lock at the top of this drawer, and I look around for a  key. I can’t see one, but I’m puzzled as to why the drawer is locked and I want to get it open. The roses will have to wait.

After spending almost an hour in the shed looking for a key -to no avail – I’ve come back inside. Where might the key be? I go through the dresser drawers again and the kitchen drawers and I search the utility room. It’s a mystery. There might not even be anything in the drawer, but I won’t be satisfied until I know. I go back out to the shed, pulling the drawer a few more times, but it won’t budge. I look around to see if there is anything I can use to force it open. Bashing it with a hammer doesn’t work, neither does poking around the lock with a penknife. I’m frustrated now, but I won’t be beaten. Maybe, I could ask the gardener when he comes to do the lawn if he could get it open, that’s not for over a week though. Anthony would do it, but after the other day, I don’t think I want to ask him. I’ll have to go and buy something so I can do it myself. The lock can’t be that strong, I’m sure if I had the right tool I could prise it open.

***

About the Author:

Julie Newman was born in East London but now lives a rural life in North Essex. She is married with two children. Her working life has seen her have a variety of jobs, including running her own publishing company. She is the author of the children’s book Poppy and the Garden Monster. Julie writes endlessly and when not writing she is reading. Other interests include theatre, music and running. Besides her family, the only thing she loves more than books is Bruce Springsteen.

Getting to Know You: David Ahern

I’m here to introduce readers of the blog to writer to David Ahern, author of the Madam Tulip Mysteries. I hope you enjoy learning about David and his work and find some of his advice helpful. 

Thanks to David for sparing some time to chat to us.

Vic x

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Tell us about your books.
The Madam Tulip Mysteries follow a young actress who moonlights as a fortune teller at celebrity events. Fortune tellers get told the most surprising things. But where you have money and secrets you’ll soon have trouble and crime. 

What inspired them?
Actors are wonderful people, dedicated to their art but who have a hard time making a living.  What do you do to pay the rent if you act and you’re a teeny bit psychic?

Where do you get your ideas from?
Staring into space, mostly. If I stare for long enough, ideas will come just so I can get something to eat.

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Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
All of the Madam Tulip books have hilarious scenes between Derry’s divorced parents, her Irish artist father and her stupendously successful American art dealer mother.  Readers love them, and I do too.

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
Both. A bit of plotting and bit of pantsing. I write character-driven stories, so I have to let the characters take me where they want to go.  On the other hand, a mystery has to be cleverly put together, so you need to plan.

Can you read when you’re working on a piece of writing?
Not fiction, but I devour non-fiction. 

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
My mother (who is a wonderful actress and writer) said: ‘Apply seat of pants to seat of chair.’ It works.

What can readers expect from your books?
The most believable heroine out there, lots of laughs and page-turning tension.  

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Learn to punctuate fluently.  You won’t believe the freedom it will give you.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
Love making myself laugh out loud (or blub). Hate being stuck at a desk.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
Madam Tulip Book #4.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
Seeing the galley proof for the first time.

Don’t Quit the Day Job: K.A. Richardson

Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Today, the woman whose post gave me the idea for my Don’t Quit the Day Job series – K.A. Richardson – is back again to talk about her career and how it inspired her ‘Forensic Files‘ series. Check out Kerry’s original post from March 2016 about ‘The Real CSI‘.

Vic x

KA Richardson

I had always wanted to be a police officer, however after numerous patella dislocations whilst trying to get fit for the physical entrance test, I eventually realised that being a cop wasn’t on the cards. 

This led to me thinking seriously about what I wanted to do – I still wanted to work for the police. I remember seeing a crime scene investigator van outside a house in the town around this time, and also CSI was all over the TV screens in the various shows. I wondered exactly was entailed. Once I’d gathered an overview, I enrolled at Teesside Uni. The next four years of my life consisted of lectures, working on an evening to pay the bills, and doing project work but I eventually passed my degree – 1% off a distinction with a high 2:1. On obtaining the degree in 2008, I quickly acquired my first CSI job working for Durham Police. 

Even uni didn’t prepare me fully for the reality of it all. Standing for hours in the snow whilst snow wax, the very thing designed to enhance footwear marks in snow, froze before I could use it. Losing my footing on loose floors where the boards had been taken up to steal copper piping, handing tissues to old men who cried because their pigeons had been killed, being threatened by a young boy with a knife on one occasion, and so much more. The contract there was temporary and when it finished after almost a year, I started at Northumbria Police as a volume crime scene investigator. 

I’d been a CSI for about 2 years when I went to see a psychic, Anthony, and after reading for a while and looking very confused, he asked me why I wasn’t writing. He reminded me that writing was my passion – I’d done it since being a kid but never believed for a moment that I could actually be a writer. I went home after that reading and immediately enrolled on my MA Creative Writing. 

I loved doing my MA – I loved the modules, and the creative people I was on the course with. The one blip was a lecturer who I won’t name, telling me that I wouldn’t amount to anything and not to give up the day job. This lecturer even said I’d fail the module before I’d submitted my work. It was a definite confidence knock. For days, I worried that I was wasting my time, that maybe the psychic and I were wrong, that writing wasn’t really my passion or talent. Slowly, though, my determination shone through. I passed that lecturer’s module despite his warning, and passed my MA, using the first 15,000 words of what became my first novel, as my dissertation. 

As I got further into writing With Deadly Intent, government cuts meant that my job was eradicated – the VCSI role no longer would exist at Northumbria Police. Anyone in the field will tell you how hard it is to get a job in CSI – and I knew I’d find it hard getting back in. My options were leave the police force, or move to the communications department and take 999 calls. I chose that one, and in 2011 I started the role. Two years later, I moved back to Durham Police to take calls closer to home. 

I’ll be eternally grateful for working as a CSI and the opportunities that presented themselves after finishing – having that base knowledge and passion for forensics has enabled With Deadly Intent to be the first stand-alone novel (published by Caffeine Nights), which was then followed by a series with Bloodhound Books, now being rebranded as The Forensic Files. Forensics is something that fascinates people – whether they work in the field or have seen it on the telly, people love that science can catch criminals. And I love that I have the knowledge to bring this into my books. 

Naturally, my CSI background impacted on my writing and, in fact, has become a massive part of my crime novels. I love exploring the different aspects of CSI work, the methodology and how that can assist in finding killers. Still working for the police has allowed me to make contacts in other departments too, which is a fab asset in writing. I loved heading to South Shields and speaking with the head of the dive team at Northumbria Police and obtaining facts which I then used in Time to Play. And I equally loved dealing with the fire investigator who helped inspire Watch You Burn.  

I keep my CSI knowledge up to date, and will hopefully enjoy using it as a feature in my novels for years to come.