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Review: ‘Help Me!: One Woman’s Quest to Find Out if Self-Help Really Can Change Her Life’ by Marianne Power

I’d heard great things about ‘Help Me!‘ and decided to give it a read on the run-up to the new year – what better time to consider a little self-improvement, right? 

Marianne Power wanted to improve her life. Sick of out-of-control debt, Netflix binges, anxiety and hangovers, she turned to the tomes that have lined her bookshelves for years. Marianne wanted a perfect life where she floated around town, full of energy and happiness, on the arm of her dream man. She made vision boards and sent her dreams out to the universe. She did yoga and drank green things. But did any of it really make her happier? 

I absolutely adored this book. Marianne writes in such an engaging way that I could not put it down. Although it is non-fiction, ‘Help Me!‘ is written in such a way that it reads like the best kind of chick lit novel.

The concept initially seems like it’s going to provide a lot of laughs – and it does – but the real surprise for me was how honest Power was about the process and its impact on her life. She laid everything bare – even the parts that didn’t paint her in the most positive light. Not only did I chuckle through ‘Help Me!‘ but I wept during some of it, too. This book went way beyond my expectations. 

I felt like I had found a new friend in Marianne. I was rooting for Marianne throughout the book despite, sometimes, also being massively frustrated with her. I totally identified with her and a lot of the issues she was experiencing are ones me and my friends have been through too. This book is about the struggle to find happiness and realising that perfection is a myth.  

Fans of Bridget Jones will love ‘Help Me!

Vic x

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2018 Review: Gytha Lodge

When I went to Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Festival earlier this year, I saw a lot of buzz flying around about a book called ‘She Lies in Wait‘ so I made it my goal that weekend to get my mitts on a copy. I had to Twitter-stalk the author, Gytha Lodge, but I managed it!
I will be reviewing ‘She Lies in Wait‘ in 2019 but I can tell you guys that you will want to read this novel. 
My thanks to Gytha, one of my newest chums, for taking the time to review her 2018.
Vic x
Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
I’ve had such a strange and wonderful year, the pinnacle of which was probably back in January when I was offered a three-book contract with Michael Joseph of Penguin for the first three instalments in a mystery series. It’s been my very focused ambition for the last twenty years, ever since I first wrote an awful novel when I should have been doing work at school. Other great moments have included the US rights selling shortly afterwards, but it was that initial offer that felt like a dream come true.
 
And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
There have been lots, so I think I’m pretty lucky just now. My 8-year-old starting a new school and suddenly loving learning again was pretty epic, I have to say. That first day when he came home and said “Loved it” after a year of being miserable was amazing. 
Favourite book in 2018? 
THIS IS SO DIFFICULT!! I was very lucky to read several that come out next year, and I think two of those may have won out. Those are The Whisper Man by Alex North, a deliciously creepy thriller, and The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea, which is like a 1600s Icelandic Rebecca. Wonderful. 
 
Favourite film in 2018? 
Fantastic Beasts Part 2 for me… I’m such a Potterhead. I’ve also watched a lot more TV than I usually manage, including The Bridge, which was SO good, the awesome Killing Eve, and Little Drummer Girl, which I obsessed over just as much. TV is definitely the new film. 
 
Favourite song of the year? 
It’s not at all new, but I love A Town Called Malice by The Jam as a pick-me-up. It gets me in such a good writing mood, and having been editing a book set in 1983, it was pretty perfect.
Any downsides for you in 2018?
I had flu for the first time, and just recently managed to spend a full six weeks ill. Both of these sucked, particularly as I missed a lot of rowing coaching and fitness training of my own, and now feel like the least fit person on the planet. Always a blow to the self-esteem… I’ve countered this by spending obscene amounts of money on make-up and trying to work out how to contour. Which generally ends with me looking like I have sideburns. Win!
Are you making resolutions for 2019?
I’m never that great on resolutions. I think I might try to manage my work/down-time balance a bit better to avoid the ills again.
What are you hoping for from 2019?
Lots of book sales, please please!! I’m sure I should say something much more humble or less egocentric, but one of my creative writing tutors always said to aim high, as otherwise, how will you find the energy to keep going when it’s tough? So with that in mind, I’m thinking “An Oscar for the screenplay I adapted from my own book.” Ha! You don’t get much bigger than that!
More realistically, I’m hoping that I’ll have a lot of fun and not worry about anyone giving me a one-star review, or any other stuff that doesn’t actually matter in the grand scheme of things. I’m happy just to live the dream and hopefully get plenty of time around that to play RPG games with my 8-year-old. Bliss.

2018 Review: Nick Quantrill

Nick Quantrill is a regular end of year reviewer and I’ve got to say only good boys and girls get invited back onto this blog! Seriously, though, I’ve known Nick for many years now and he’s an absolute gem. It’s my pleasure to have Nick here to review his year, and what a year it’s been! 

Thanks, Nick, for always being a willing participant. 

Vic x

Nick Quantrill

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
I absolutely do! I started the year working on a novel I wasn’t sure would necessarily have a home, and I was probably struggling with it because of that. Unexpectedly, the rights to my Joe Geraghty trilogy reverted to me in the summer and the ace Fahrenheit Press scooped them up. It’s given me the impetus to revisit Joe and I’m hard at work on the fourth in the trilogy…

Geraghty covers (FP)

And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
It’s been grim times for my football teams, Hull City and North Ferriby United, but I hugely enjoyed the World Cup. My seven-year-old daughter is football mad, too, so we watched a lot of it together. We also had a family holiday to New York, which was pretty memorable.

Favourite book in 2018?
As ever, I’ve read loads of brilliant books this year. If I was picking an absolute favourite, I’d have to go for November Road by Lou Berney. Set against the backdrop of the John F Kennedy assassination, it’s part-noir, part-road trip, part-redemptive tale. I also loved Eva Dolan’s This Is How It Ends and Joseph Knox’s The Smiling Man. Looking to 2019, I was lucky enough to read Blood and Sugar, a fantastic debut due out in January from Laura Shepherd-Robinson.

Favourite film in 2018?
I’m not a huge film watcher (does Alvin and the Chipmunks with my daughter count?), but I do love a good boxset. Dysfunctional families seems to be a theme, as I really enjoyed Succession and Trust.

Favourite song of the year?
Sticking to being a bit old-fashioned, I love my vinyl, so tend to think about albums rather than individual songs. Like books, the list could go on and on, but I’ll go for Merrie Land by The Good, The Bad and The Queen. It’s Damon Albarn’s Brexit album and it’s all a bit unsettling, weird and discomforting. Whatever vehicle he uses, he’s always interesting.

Any downsides for you in 2018?
See above – Brexit. I’m not having it. What a state of affairs…

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
Nope. I’ve never liked them, or believe you need to wait for an arbitrary date to start something. That said, the usual… bit more exercise, bit less caffeine etc …

What are you hoping for from 2019?
I’m well on with Geraghty 4, so all being well, it’ll see the light of day in 2019. Lots of plots floating around in my head, so looking forward to writing more of them. Away from the writing, but complimenting it, I hope we get to put on Hull Noir again next November. Watch this space re our funding bid.

2018 Review: Trevor Wood

Trevor Wood has had a pretty good year but I’ll let him tell you all about it…

As always, Trevor, it’s been a pleasure.

Vic x

home sweet home

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018? 
Easy one this. The moment I got an e-mail from my agent Oli Munson to confirm that I’d been offered a two-book deal with Quercus. After some near misses it was such a combination of joy and relief. I am not sure I will completely believe it until I have an actual book in my hands.

And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally? 
The book deal happened while I was spending two months in Ottawa so it was all arranged via Skype/e-mail/telephone. I’ve been to Canada a lot over the years but this trip was full of lovely moments, and we really settled into the local community, great next-door neighbours, a fantastic local pub, Quinn’s (hi Kieran!), some white-water rafting, a parade of animals through our back yard (raccoons, groundhogs and even a skunk). Just perfect. 

Favourite book in 2018?
I loved The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh. A slightly futuristic thriller set in a small gated community in the middle of the USA.  All the residents are in a kind of witness-protection scheme. The problem is they’ve all had their memories wiped so they don’t know whether they were good guys or bad guys previously. And then people start to die. I can’t sum it up any better than Dennis Lehane (who could?!) so I’ll just give you his quote “a propulsive and meaningful meditation on redemption and loss. It’s witty, electrifying, vivid, and thoroughly original” 

That would have been a clear winner but I have just finished Dark Chapter by Winnie M Li and the strength she somehow summoned up to write this fictionalised version of her own rape, including giving the rapist a narrative voice deserves every accolade going. It’s a remarkable book which will leave you in awe: powerful, though often distressing, but beautifully written and entirely admirable. 

Favourite film in 2018?
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
is quite brilliant, with fantastic performances from Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and the always excellent Sam Rockwell. Should have won the Oscar. A Quiet Place also deserves a mention, a great idea, superbly executed. 

Favourite song of the year? 
The band I’ve listened to most this year is Gang of Youths, who are huge in Australia but practically unknown over here. The only downside of being in Canada this summer was that I missed their UK tour when they played in some very small venues. I’m sure the next time they’ll be playing stadiums. Their album Go Farther in Lightness is practically perfect, check out Do Not Let Your Spirit Wane or Keep Me In The Open. As a bonus, their lead singer David Le’aupepe is a very cool (and very good-looking) dude.

Any downsides for you in 2018?
I don’t think I’ve ever been as out-of-step with the rest of the world in my life. Just about every political event is beyond my comprehension, Trump, May, Johnson, Brexit, Tommy-fucking-Robinson, all completely inexplicable to me. I’m getting to the burying-my-head-in-the-sand-and-hoping-it-will-all-go-away point. Thoroughly depressing.

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
Don’t do resolutions but plenty of plans. I’ve got to finish the as yet untitled Book 2. I’m heading to several crime writing festivals: Newcastle Noir, Harrogate and Bloody Scotland. And I’m very much looking forward to returning to Glastonbury again, where hopefully Gang of Youths will play. 

What are you hoping for from 2019?
Last year I wanted a book deal, the cancellation of Brexit and the impeachment of Donald Trump. One out of three ain’t bad but I’d still like the other two this time around.

On a personal note, I’m hearing rumours that the publication date for my first book The Man on the Street (currently March 2020) may be brought forward to Autumn 2019. I’d love them to be true.

2018 Review: Chris Ord

Today’s special guest is Chris Ord, writer of ‘Becoming’ and ‘The Storm’. Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of chairing a panel featuring Chris, Danielle Ramsay and William Prince. 

You can find Chris on Facebook. My thanks to Chris for taking the time to review his year, it’s always a pleasure hosting you, Chris.

Vic x

IMG_7423

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
I released my second novel, The Storm in January. It is based on a true story and was inspired by a musical project I was involved in. It is about ‘Big’ Philip Jefferson, the first Newbiggin Lifeboat Coxswain who was awarded a clasp to his silver medal for an attempted rescue of the Norwegian brig ‘Embla’ in 1854. The rescue is the backdrop for the novel, however, the events of that night are only the starting point, as the book weaves this together with a folk tale, and a series of mysterious incidents to create a tense, supernatural thriller.

It’s gone really well. After the customary book launch I’ve appeared at several reading events and featured in regional and national magazines. They ran an article in Living North about it and gave it a glowing review. I was proud of that one. These things make all the difference for a writer. You plough away in self-doubt and isolation writing the story you love, and your hope is that others will love it too. When the feedback tells you the risk and sacrifice, the blood and tears were all worthwhile. It’s priceless.     

And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
I saw ELO recently. It was at the arena which is not a good music venue in my opinion. Initially it put me off, but I bought a top whack ticket at the last minute. I was bang in the centre, in the fourth row, a cracking seat. They were incredible, one of the best live musical experiences I’ve witnessed. I go to a lot of gigs and have seen some of the very best artists over the years, and they were up there without question. Jeff Lynne still has the voice and, of course the wall to wall hit tunes. He has surrounded himself with musicians of the highest quality and capped it off with a superb light show. 

My dad loved ELO, and introduced me to them in the first place, many years ago. It was a moving concert for me for that, and lots of other reasons. Perfect. Music always provides my annual highlights. I can’t think of anything better than music. 

Favourite book in 2018?
Don’t Skip Out On Me by Willy Vlautin. Willy is the singer and main songwriter of the bands Richmond Fontaine and The Delines. I love his music and writing. There was a film released this year based on one of his novels, Lean on Pete. But for me Don’t Skip Out On Me is his best yet. It’s about a young Mexican Ranch hand who dreams of becoming a boxer. He leaves a loving elderly farming couple, who have taken him in as their own, to pursue his dream with tragic outcomes. It’s a terrific novel with well-drawn characters that creep under your skin. 

So much of modern literature is style over substance, but this is traditional storytelling of the highest order. It reminded me a lot of John Steinbeck, who I love. I’m always far more interested in story than style. Literary work has its place, but I read to escape, be thrilled and entertained. A lot of literature seems to be pumped up by the marketing machines, and prize winning circuits and gains momentum via the in-crowd. Just give me a good yarn that takes me to another world for a few hours, makes me laugh, cry, scares or excites me. I aspire to be an accomplished storyteller as much as a writer. 

Favourite film in 2018?
I loved You Were Never Really There with Joaquin Phoenix. It’s a dark and brutal film about a hitman with a hammer who gets himself into a tricky situation when he takes on a job which spirals out of his control. Phoenix makes the movie with another captivating performance. I can’t think of a better screen actor at this moment. He’s one of those I will watch the film simply because of him. Some may find the film too brutal, but I’ve never been put off by gore or brutality. Readers of my work will know this.

Favourite album of the year?
God’s Favourite Customer by Father John Misty. What can I say other than I adore everything Josh Tillman does. He’s adopted the persona of Father John Misty in order to liberate himself creatively. I find this intriguing and it reminds me of my favourites artists like Bowie, Gabriel, and Bush all of whom have played theatrical roles in their work.

People have often asked me if I would write under a pseudonym. Who knows, maybe I have! It’s an interesting proposition and not something I’m averse to. It has risks commercially as you have built up your fanbase and people will engage with your work because of who you are, and what you have written before. However, it could offer the opportunity to take a few more risks and try different things. 

Integrity is everything for me. It’s what attracts me about the indie route above all else. All creatives are searching for the truth, their own truth. You hope that others will relate to that truth and there is a degree of universality to the human experience you have captured. Adopting a persona would allow you to explore a different perspective and present the story from an alternative world view. It may compromise on authenticity, which is part of the risk. I’m more and more attracted by the thought when I encounter artists like Tillman. 

Seeing the world in new ways is an important part of our development as people. I believe one of the main problems today is that so many struggle to see the world from other perspectives, or at least recognise the validity of different views. There are too many that think theirs is the one and only accepted truth and should be everyones. Tolerance and respect are being undermined by populists and illiberal liberals alike. Maybe we all need to try a different persona now and again, or show a bit more empathy and compassion at least. I saw a powerful quote this year which stayed with me, ‘Stay kind. It makes you beautiful.’ I’m going to try and remember that one.  

Any downsides for you in 2018?
I haven’t written as much as I would have liked this year. Like many writers I’m only able to sustain myself financially in bursts. It’s feast then fallow. I wish at times it was different, but few write to be rich, it’s more important to seek the integrity I spoke of earlier. Integrity doesn’t pay yet bills though. As such, I have to take on contract work to meet all my family commitments, and I have a large family of four boys!

It’s difficult to find the time to write when you’re working, but I’m also a musician and play in a band. I love playing and it’s important to me. By the time I get in from work, do all the family things, and practice my horn, there isn’t much time remaining to write. However, I have hit a bit of momentum again of late. This has been driven by the passion and excitement I have for my latest work in progress. These are the moments you look for and have to make the best of. So things are looking positive again, and sometimes you need the lows as a reminder and a springboard to greater things.

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
Yes, I’m an obsessive planner do the New Year offers ample opportunity for me to indulge in ‘things to do’ lists. I will be finding more time to write, and play my music. I run regularly and hope to get a couple of half marathons done this year. I also want to go to a few more gigs. I go to watch music a lot, but this year has been a bit quiet. There have been some highlights, but I think I may need to look further afield this year. So family, music, writing, running. In that order. Same as it ever was.

What are you hoping for from 2019?
I have two books on the go at the moment. One is the follow up to my debut novel, Becoming, the other is something new. If I get my act together both may see the light of day in 2019. One is at the editing stage, but needs a bit more polish. I need to keep up the momentum I have found and find a regular pattern for writing, make the time, little and often. Hard work and discipline are talents in themselves. You need both to be a writer or the words never get anywhere. I need to keep reminding myself of that in 2019. I will. It’s going to be a good year. I promise.

 

2018 Review: Harry Gallagher

I’m pretty sure I say this on the first of December every year but can you believe it’s this time of year again?! 

I’m delighted to host a range of wonderful folks on my 2018 reviews this year. Our first willing victim is poet Harry Gallagher. 

My thanks to Harry for taking the time out of his busy schedule to look back over his year. 

Vic x

Harry book

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
Yes, I’ve been doing an irregular series of ‘An Evening With Harry Gallagher & Friends’ events this year and we’ve just had a ball with them. One particular event in Newbiggin Maritime Centre in Northumberland springs to mind. The venue were quite nervous about putting the gig on beforehand but it just felt like one of those lovely nights from start to end. Myself and the musician/singer friends I had with me spent over 2 hours switching between poems and songs and had such a lovely time with the audience. At the end the venue were really delighted with it, paid us all of the door takings and want it to become a regular thing. Result!

Newbiggin Maritime Centre 8th June.jpg

And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
Ah…a personal one then. I got married in June to the most lovely, supportive and talented woman I could ever hope to meet and we’re sickeningly happy!

Favourite book in 2018?
Notwithstanding by Louis de Bernieres, which was actually written a few years ago, but I’ve just read it. It’s such a beautifully written (if rose tinted) account of genteel village life in an England which probably only existed for a privileged few. It’s so utterly charming I kept expecting Private Godfrey’s sister Dolly to appear, complete with her tray of upside down cakes!

Favourite film in 2018?
As I write this, the films I’ve most eagerly awaited I haven’t yet seen – Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old and the biopic Stan & Ollie starring Steve Coogan. Really looking forward to both. So instead I’ll go for one I saw earlier this year and absolutely loved – The Shape Of Water. It’s by turns fantastical, quirky, amusingly retro, ludicrous, clever and beautiful. See it and fall in love!

Favourite song of the year?
Being an old fart and having no idea whatsoever of current chart music, I’m going with our good friends The Late Bloomers, a folk duo from Scotland. The way their voices weave in and out of each other could bring tears from stone. If I have to pick one song of theirs I’ll with The Brakeman’s Daughter – heaven!  

Any downsides for you in 2018?
Trump and the rise of the right throughout the western world. It seems to me that we are going through a profound change which I don’t think anyone really understands yet. The gap between the haves and the have nots is now obscene and people are turning away from the mainstream political parties for answers to the far reaches – a huge mistake. I fear for the future because I think it will get a lot worse for the poor and dispossessed before it gets any better. I hope I’m wrong.

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
Keep going. Keep writing, keep gigging and keep pressing on. If you stand still, you go backwards.

Tan cover

What are you hoping for from 2019?
I have a new joint collection out in January with the editor of Black Light Engine Room, p.a.morbid – Running Parallel, so it will be good to get that out there and get out around the UK to promote it. Other than that it would be great to play a few festivals this year. I also write songs and perform them with my better half around the north east folk circuit and we keep promising each other to get in the studio with a few mates and record and put out an album of our songs. It would be good to record them if only for posterity. Who knows? It may just happen this year…

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Jan Fortune

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, I’m delighted to welcome Jan Fortune to the blog to talk about how she managed to write a trilogy in the last four years while holding down a day job. My thanks to Jan for taking the time to share her insights with us.

Vic x

jan_5.jpg

Over the last four years I’ve been working on a trilogy of novels. A Remedy For All Things follows Catherine, who is in Hungary in 1993 to research on the poet Attila József, when she begins dreaming the life of another woman from a different time period (imprisoned after the Hungarian Uprising of 1956). Even more disturbing, she’s aware that the other woman, Selene, is dreaming her life. 

It’s a complex book that has taken a great deal of research as well as several edits, but like most contemporary writers, I don’t write full-time. How do we do it? Juggle work, homes to run and still write? And are there any benefits to writing in this way, without the luxury of all the time in the world, or at least all the time that would otherwise go into holding body and soul together?

remedy_for_all

Many of my favourite writers combined work of all sorts with writing. William Faulkner is reputed to have written As I Lay Dying in six weeks. He claimed that while working 12 hours days as a manual labourer he wrote this phenomenal novel in his ‘spare time’. Most of us need a lot longer, but it’s certainly the case that many writers don’t only write.

Anthony Burgess taught and composed music; Joseph Conrad was a sea captain; T.S. Eliot worked in a bank and Arthur Conan Doyle was a doctor, as was the poet William Carlos Williams. Wallace Stevens turned down a Harvard professorship rather than give up his 40-year career in insurance.

Women who write may not only do the lion’s share of domestic work while writing, but also hold down demanding jobs. Agatha Christie worked as an apothecary’s assistant, a great place to learn about poisons. Toni Morrison worked as an editor and for many years Octavia Butler had to write in the early hours so that she could work low-paid jobs like telemarketing or cleaning.

If working the day job is a necessity, it can also be one with benefits. Working as an editor and publisher, I get a lot of time to see how form works, how language can constantly be honed and how handing our precious book to someone with skill and objectivity and then listening carefully can make all the difference. One of my authors recently took a PR role that is giving her masses of people-watching time, none of it wasted. Writers are people who walk about the world with all their senses open and work is an endlessly rich environment for observation of the human condition.

Of course, we still need time to find that trance state in which to write and to go into deep flow. If your day job does nothing but hollow you out, it may be time to reconsider. But if your work sustains you and leaves the time and energy to write whilst being a source of experiences and characters, then writing around the day job is an honourable tradition.