Tag Archives: written

Review: ‘Lost For Words’ by Stephanie Butland

Stephanie Butland’s third novel, Lost for Words, is being touted as a book lover’s dream book and I’m rather inclined to agree. Loveday Cardew works in a second-hand bookstore and prefers books to people. She has her favourite first lines tattooed on her body and an acerbic wit to keep people at bay.

Loveday is prickly to say the least but I, like several of the characters in this book, love her. The relationships between the characters are really intelligently written and are therefore totally believable. The attention to detail in this novel really adds to the story. I loved the scenes in which Loveday would discover notes in the margins of books or past treasures hidden in between the pages.

Stephanie Butland has created a compelling yarn, combining romance with deeper, darker questions and a well-drawn cast of characters that I was fully invested in. The flashbacks are skillfully woven into the present-day narrative to give the reader just enough information to keep them guessing.

I absolutely loved this book, for a bibliophile, it really has it all – performance poetry complete with original poems, relevant literary references everywhere you look in addition to characters to care about. It, like the bookshop, is utterly charming.

And as a Spotify fan, I’m thrilled to say there’s a playlist to listen to as you read. 

In the words of Shelley Harris: ‘I cried like a motherf***er.’

Vic x

Review: ‘Six Stories’ by Matt Wesolowski

If you haven’t already read Six Stories, I recommend that you rush to your nearest bookshop and purchase it now. And then read it. Most likely in one sitting.

Six Storiespublished by Orenda Books, is the book everyone is talking about and I, for one, would be happy to wax lyrical about it until… well, the end of this blog post but you know what I mean. In fact, I loved this book so much that if you meet me face-to-face, you will undoubtedly hear me refer to this book at least once during our conversation. I appeared at Pure Fiction on Thursday night and mentioned Six Stories during the Q&A. I did also mention other books too, obviously.

Anyway, Six Stories is a real stroke of genius. Following on from the success of podcasts like SerialSix Stories revisits a mysterious death that occurred on the fictional Scarclaw Fell in 1997. The official verdict was death by misadventure but, twenty years on, the podcast aims to reexamine the circumstances and relationships surrounding teenager Tom Jeffries’ death. The elusive presenter, Scott King, interviews the key players and encourages listeners to draw their own conclusions.

You can tell Wesolowski has taken a real interest in podcasts and he mimics the style of them with considerable aplomb. As with Serial, Six Stories builds up a picture each week and, just as you think you can conclude something, you’re given a new piece of information that confuses or confounds your theory.

This is a brilliant character study and an interesting take on the benefit and wisdom of hindsight. I also loved the sinister undertones (although it made walking around my house at night slightly terrifying).

Six Stories is utterly compelling and despite being entirely engrossed, I defy you not to be shocked by the ending.

An original concept with skilled execution – totally unputdownable!

Vic x

Review of 2016: Sandra Ireland

Today we’re joined on the blog by the lovely Sandra Ireland who’s here to review her year. I know it’s a funny time of year – the week between Christmas and New Year – so thanks to Sandra for taking the time to appear on the blog.

Vic x

book-signing

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
I suppose everyone says ‘The Book Launch’, which is absolutely true! Mine was in St Stephens, Stockbridge, and hosted by a wonderful indie bookshop, Golden Hare Books. My publisher Polygon selected this venue as my novel Beneath the Skin is set right around the corner! But I have so many great memories of 2016, including being invited to take part in Bloody Scotland’s ‘Spotlight on Crime’ event.

 

And how about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
2016 has been a BIG year. In April, I was a awarded Creative Scotland funding to undertake a year-long creative residency at NTS Barry Mill, Angus, and in May my son Jamie married his lovely girl, Lizzie, at the Mill. The ceremony took place beneath a gorgeous old apple tree. Not a dry eye in the place!

barry-mill-wedding-436-of-618

Favourite book in 2016?
So many to choose from. At the moment I’m reading Donna Tartt’s ‘The Goldfinch‘, after seeing the painting in Edinburgh. Such a beautifully-written novel, and that sense of place bestowed by basing it around an actual artefact: brilliant! I’ve tried to do something similar with by second novel, which is set in a fictional version of Barry Mill. I love the idea of literary tourism.

goldfinch

Favourite film in 2016?
Tricky. I’m not a fan of anything connected with ‘Star Wars‘ or action/ adventure/ superhero stuff, and I don’t like all the hype surrounding cinema releases. I’m a rather-read-the-book type! I did enjoy ‘Sunset Song‘ last year, but I guess that doesn’t count! This year I went to see ‘Room‘, and ‘The Girl on the Train‘ which were both just okay!

Favourite song of the year?
I’m a big Nick Cave fan, so I would have to say that my go-to song for a bit of Gothic writing inspiration is his ‘Red Right Hand’. Since it’s the theme for Peaky Blinders (beautifully-written) I think that qualifies it to be included in my 2016 highlights!

Any downsides for you in 2016?
Mainly family stuff. I suppose bright light casts a long shadow, and alongside the good fortune of having my book published are the things that can’t be helped but must be endured. My father is nearly 93 and doesn’t keep well. However he’s doing okay at the moment. My younger son, Calum, is in Australia and managed to come back for the wedding. Neither of them made it to the book launch, which was sad but unavoidable. I missed them both.That’s the writing life – it’s a strange career choice; you just have to write through the downsides of life.

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
I like to see what the Universe has in store for me – I like to be led by my intuition, so no resolutions for me. Too much like taking control! I do have goals, though.

What are you hoping for from 2017?
I hope to get my second novel published, and to build on the other strand of my writing life which is as a tutor/facilitator. I’m about to start working with Tayside Healthcare Arts Trust on a creative writing project at a local Macmillan Centre. I love the idea of well-being through the arts, so I’d like to do more of that in the New Year. I’m hoping for lots of good health, energy, enthusiasm and tolerance in 2017!

Thank you so much for sharing this space with me! Wishing yourself and all my writing friends every success and help from a friendly Muse in the New Year!

Review of 2016: Harry Gallagher

My mate Harry Gallagher is here to review his 2016. I’ve known Harry for several years and it’s wonderful seeing him go from strength to strength. 
Thanks for taking the time to review your year, Harry! Hope to see you soon. 
Vic x
harry
Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
It seems like a long time ago now, but back in January, my pamphlet ‘Chasing The Sunset’ was published.  We had a Newcastle launch and people were queuing for autographs!  Don’t think I’ll ever get used to that particular phenomenon, but it is very nice to think people like your stuff. The same thing happened at a recent gig at my local library, they packed the place out and were just lovely.
As well as that, The Stanza moved to our new venue – Beldon’s Bar at The Exchange, North Shields – and we have been made so welcome that we’ve decided to stay! And news just in…we are now the North East Stanza of The Poetry Society!
And how about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
None that stick out, though my partner and my daughters make me proud every day.
 
Favourite book in 2016?
The Dead Queen Of Bohemia, New & Collected Poems‘ by Jenni Fagan (Polygon Books).  Beautiful and ugly, funny and tragic, tender and cutting; and often all in the same poem  And it’s all accessible, I think an ordinary person unfamiliar with poetry would enjoy it as much as I did – and still am.
Favourite film in 2016?
I, Daniel Blake‘ should be on the national curriculum.  In all honesty, I’ve seen better crafted Ken Loach films, but none as important or as timely as this.  The poverty and mean spiritedness that abounds in our country brings shame on us all.  The cinema was awash but in truth I didn’t cry, I just felt angry, like “Well OBVIOUSLY this is what we’ve come to, haven’t you people been paying attention!”
 
Favourite song of the year?
David Bowie’s ‘Blackstar‘.  Epic farewell from a truly great artist. When he died, I felt like I’d lost a part of myself.  He was such a big influence on me.  He spoke to my youth in a way that most of us who function in the arts can only dream of.
Any downsides for you in 2016?
How long have you got?  Farage, Johnson, Gove, Duncan-Schmidt and the pig over the pond. All symptoms of the lurch to the right by a populace who want a simple answer to complex problems.  Up steps an odious man with a spoonful of charisma, a salesman’s smile and hey presto, we’re all in 1933.
Are you making resolutions for 2017?
As ever, keep on keeping on! I have thoughts of a one man Edinburgh show, which I’m still flapping over, but if I don’t do it, I do want to make strides towards doing more on a nationwide basis.
I would totally go to see that show, Harry! What are you hoping for from 2017?
All being well, I have a publisher for my first full collection, along with hundreds of as yet unused poems waiting to see the light of day.  Apart from that, I’ll go for continued love and health, that’ll do me!

Review of 2016: Tess Makovesky

Tess Makovesky and I have been social media friends for many years and 2016 was the year I finally got to meet her. I was lucky enough to spend some time with Tess during Crime and Publishment. Tess also appeared at Noir at the Bar NE #2 to great acclaim. 

I’m thrilled to host Tess on the blog today for her to review her tremendous 2016 with us.

Vic x

tess makovesky

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
Without a shadow of a doubt, the publication of my book ‘Raise the Blade’ by Caffeine Nights.  It was a real ‘dream come true’ moment – a book that I’m genuinely proud of, published by my dream publisher.  What’s not to like?!

raise-the-blade

And how about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
It’s going to sound silly, but probably seeing the cupcakes for my book launch for the first time.  The cakes, made specially for me by Shirley of J’aime Cakes in Kendal, had either a tiny ‘Raise the Blade’ book cover, or a picture of a knife with fake ‘blood’, on top of them, and looked absolutely stunning.  You can see a picture, taken by my friend Barry Henderson, here.

Cakes!

Favourite book in 2016?
I’m not allowed to say my own, am I? Heh.  Failing that, it’s probably a toss-up between Michael J Malone’s ‘Bad Samaritan’, a dark psychological detective novel with a real sting in the tail, and Paul D Brazill’s collection of short comedie noir short stories ‘The Last Laugh’, which really did give me a laugh.

Favourite film in 2016?
Again, two stand out.  The first is ‘Bridge of Spies‘, a thoughtful re-telling of the Gary Powers story with a knockout performance by Mark Rylance as the old Russian spy eventually swapped for Powers.  The second, dare I say it, is ‘Hotel Transylvania 2‘, which is just sheer silly knockabout fun!

Favourite song of the year?
I’m going to be annoying here and say ‘Brain Damage’ by Pink Floyd, simply because it helped to inspire ‘Raise the Blade’.  I’ve always loved the lyrics (the brilliant Roger Waters at work), and there are all sorts of references to them hidden away inside the book.  Hats off to anyone who can spot them.

Any downsides for you in 2016?
It’s been a strange year in many ways, with too many heroes no longer here and far too much intolerance in the world.  And being two cars back from a fatal accident a few months ago was pretty sobering.  But overall, I think the good outweighs the bad – and if not, we have to make sure it does.

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
Only to keep writing, but then I always make that resolution – and usually manage to stick to it!

What are you hoping for from 2017?
I’d love to have another book published.  I have one currently in submission but will have to wait and see if the publisher likes it enough to go ahead.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Review of 2016: Helen Anderson

In 2015, I had the honour of copy-editing Helen Anderson’s memoir, Piece by Piece. That book has gone on to receive fantastic reviews as well as providing support to many other people who are going through difficult times. 

It is a real joy to have Helen reviewing her 2016. Many thanks for being involved, Helen.

Vic x

Helen Anderson

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
Much of the year been taken up with letting people know about my memoir about losing my beautiful daughter Georgina to cancer, three years ago. Piece by Piece: Remembering Georgina: A Mother’s Memoir is still available as a paperback or e-book and has over 60 amazing 5 Star Amazon reviews.

When the book was published at the end of 2015, I had no idea if it would sell 10 or 100 copies, but I am thrilled to have been able to donate £1,000 of profits, so far, from the sale of the book to Make-A-Wish UK. I have had wonderful feedback from readers, and I have enjoyed reading at events and talking on radio shows about Georgina and my memoir. Emotionally, I have been sustained by all the support I have received with this venture, and I hope that my writing is also helping others experiencing child loss or bereavement, generally. 

make-a-wish

And how about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
I have been invited to some amazing fundraising events in Georgina’s memory, and these are always a bittersweet mixture of happiness that she is still so loved, and sadness that’s she’s not here with us.

My writer’s notebook has been well-travelled. We have been lucky enough to enjoy some soul-nourishing holidays to Tenerife, Languedoc and Lindisfarne, as well as managing to get our beloved VW camper Daisy Blue back onto the road, for a few local forays.

At the beginning of 2016, I put out feelers to see if any local writers would be interested in meeting up. The response was very positive, so Saltburn Writers Group has been meeting once a month since March. It is such a friendly, vibrant group – I hope that it will continue to go from strength to strength.

Favourite book in 2016?
I have been reading quite voraciously, recently. I have just finished reading Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh, which is so dark that I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. My (as yet unpublished) novel Gloriosa Superba also has a deeply disturbed central protagonist, so it was a relief to see I’m not the only one who creates twisted characters.

I also love Shelley Day’s The Confession of Stella Moon, Kit de Waal’s My Name Is Leon and Louise Beech’s How To Be Brave. All these books are thought-provoking, populated by well-observed characters, and beautifully written.

Favourite film in 2016?
I don’t think I’ve been to the cinema at all this year. I’m thinking “That can’t be right!!” but it seems it is. Perhaps that should be my resolution for 2017 – to get out more. I’ve enjoyed some cracking TV dramas, such as The Missing, The Fall, Paranoid and Dark Angel (as well as my guilty secrets like Home and Away) so I’m obviously more of a sit-on-my-own-sofa-and-gawp-at-my-own-screen kinda gal.

york-22-october-2016

Favourite song of the year?
I like to listen to golden oldies – 80s, 90s, Noughties –  when I write, and I love to listen to my daughter Georgina’s own song Two Thirds of a Piece.

Any downsides for you in 2016?
In October 2016, it would have been Georgina’s 18th birthday. That was a very hard day to get through, as was the third anniversary of her death in November 2016. However, we have survived so far, thanks to the love of friends – old and new – and family.

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
I should resolve to be more disciplined with my writing, but I don’t really ‘do’ resolutions, because they just make me feel rebellious! I’ll aim to keep on keeping on, I suppose (not a very specific goal, I know).

What are you hoping for from 2017?
Writing-wise, my first chapbook of poetry Way Out is due to be published by The Black Light Engine Room Press early in 2017, so I am excited by that.

I would also love to secure representation for Gloriosa Superba – I have had a few near-misses, and I need to steel myself to send it out again. I plan to finish the final draft of my new novel, All Hushed, and to start the process of finding an agent who loves the story and characters as much as I do.

Personally, I just want my family to stay as healthy and happy as possible. Georgina wanted us to be happy and make the most of our lives, even in her absence, and I am going to try to seize opportunities and enjoy the little things (and some medium-sized and big things, if I’m lucky!)

Review of 2016: Jackie Baldwin

Well, it’s that time of year again! We have a host of guests coming up this month to talk about their 2016 experiences. First up is someone I met earlier this year who has had a hugely positive impact on my writing life. 

I first met Jackie Baldwin at this year’s Crime and Publishment. Since then, I’ve spent time with her at both Noir at the Bar NE events – where Jackie was our first wild card reader – as well as Harrogate and Killer Women. Jackie gave me some phenomenal advice during the second Noir at the Bar NE and that set me on the path to finishing my novel. Since that conversation with Jackie, I have written more than I have done in the last five years combined. 

Jackie’s had a big impact on my 2016 – let’s hear about hers. 

Vic x

Jackie Baldwin

Jackie, it’s such a pleasure to have you back on the blog. Do you have a favourite moment professionally from 2016?
I think it would have to be the moment I received an e-mail dated 8th March from Killer Reads, Harper Collins, offering to publish my book, ‘Dead Man’s Prayer‘. It was so overwhelming and unexpected I didn’t stop shaking until lunchtime the next day!

Dead Man's Prayer

And how about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
I was one of 12 Spotlighted authors at The Bloody Scotland Crime Festival in Stirling on 9-11th September. This involved going up on a massive stage before the ‘Into The Dark’ Panel featuring well known authors Craig Robertson, James Oswald and Malcolm Mackay and reading for 3 minutes from my novel. To say I was absolutely terrified is an understatement. My favourite moment was when I finished reading without my voice betraying me and knew that I would never feel that same degree of fear again.

Bloody Scotland

Favourite book in 2016?
Fractured’ by Clar Ni Chonghaile. I found this book incredibly moving. It involved the kidnap of a journalist in war torn Somalia. He is held captive for some time with only fear and remorse to keep him company. His estranged mother, a former journalist herself, comes looking for him. He forms a tenuous friendship with the teenager who guards him and they resolve to escape. It is a novel about survivors and the real cost of civil war to the indigent population. It also helped to educate me a little on a subject I knew next to nothing about. The characters have stayed with me.

Fractured

Favourite Film in 2016?
This one is easy. ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens‘. I am a massive Star Wars fan as you can see from the fact that Darth Vader has pride of place in my living room. I felt so emotionally overwhelmed at the end I burst into tears.

Darth

What was your biggest adventure in 2016?
I went to Russia for a week, so many conflicting impressions to assimilate. Fascinating country and people!

2016-06-26-12-17-42-0100

Any downsides for you in 2016 generally?
I found launching myself on to Social Media from a standing start very challenging. At first I jumped a foot into the air every time my phone beeped but I am becoming more relaxed about it now. Now that I have more followers I hate that I can’t manage to read everything all the time in my Twitter feed because I worry I will miss something that matters, like someone having a wobble and needing support. However, I have started to realise that people retweet their posts at different times of the day so I probably do get to see most of it. And I do love to chat to people about robots and all things sci-fi! My Twitter handle (never thought I would say that!) is @JackieMBaldwin1

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
Definitely! The main one is to get the first draft of my second novel finished by mid- March so I can go to India for 16 days. I have never been and would love to go but can’t book it until I feel I am on track to do that.

What are you hoping for from 2017?
Good health and happiness for those I hold dear.