Have a fantastic time this festive season! Here's to a hopeful 2017. x
Anyone who knows me is aware that I have several jobs at the moment and so finding the time to take a breath and think about books and writing has fallen, sadly, to the bottom of my ‘must’ list.
So it was wonderful to be forced into it – in the friendliest of ways – this weekend. Berwick Literary Festival in my home town is in its third year and I’ve been lucky enough to be part of it since its inception.
On Friday, I held a short story writing class. (I’ve been chewing over the term ‘masterclass’. It feels like a male term to me. Someone kindly told me that my masterclass ‘was indeed masterly’, which was a lovely compliment, but it did feel as if I was being complimented in a male-ish way, rather like being told I’m a good man. Am I wrong, anyone? And is there a gender-neutral way of saying ‘masterclass’?)
Anyway, the short story ‘expert tutorial’ – for want of a better phrase – attracted a very talented group of twelve aspiring writers, who – I hope – all went home with a good head start on a new story and some advice on how to structure and to complete it. Teaching writing is always an inspiring thing to do.
But Saturday was my day for enjoying other authors’
work. It was fascinating to be in conversation with the journalist and
non-fiction writer Andrew Hankinson, hearing how he came to write the
compelling You Could Do Something
Wonderful With Your Life [You Are Raoul Moat].
We discussed why he was drawn to this tragic story and the ethical considerations in using the reams of material collected after Moat’s death. It’s a gripping read – even if we all know the end of the story – and a deep insight into the mind of a man who’s just committed murder. If you want to know what could drive someone to that, then this is the book that examines it.
I went straight from there to hear Shelley Day in
conversation with former Tyne Tees political editor Gerry Foley, who has the
kind of resonant voice and Irish accent I could listen to all day. I knew a
little about Shelley’s novel, The
Confession of Stella Moon, in its making, but Gerry’s insightful questions
and the author’s open and generous answers were truly enriching.
It reminded me why festivals like this are so important. As an author, connecting with readers is vital. As a reader, hearing the processes and the creative practice behind the writing of a novel gives extra depth and meaning to the act of reading.
I feel as if, for an afternoon, I stepped off the treadmill and fed my brain. Remind me to do this more often, won’t you?PS
There’s a famous joke, isn’t there, where someone claims they ‘love to watch deadlines flying past’. Now for me, that’s just not funny. It always makes me purse my lips in disapproval.
Perhaps I am in the minority, but I truly love a deadline. More than that: I can’t work sensibly without one. I think it comes from my initial training as a journalist, first in print and then for the BBC. Deadlines arrived several times a day: copy and audio/video clips were needed for the hourly news bulletins and longer items were required for the ‘appointment’ news programmes that are now falling out of fashion, such as the early evening news or the breakfast slots.
When I studied for my Creative Writing PhD, my supervisor told me I was the only student that had never missed a deadline. (She also called me a ‘fossil’ for taking notes in shorthand, but we’ll gloss over that). And when I moved into teaching, I was horrified to find the casual way that deadlines were treated – forgotten, altered and roundly ignored.
For me (and my army of controlling demons), a deadline is the only way to get things done. Without a cut-off point, my writing can take a phenomenal amount of time and will always be put to the bottom of the to-do list. Give me a deadline, though, and no matter how huge the task, I will meet it. It’s a matter of personal pride.
When I got my first publishing deal (for an adult crime novel), the contract said that the publisher would have first refusal on anything I wrote in the following twelve months. I chose to read that as ‘they will accept your next novel, as long as you write it in the next year’. It gave me enough of a psychological deadline to ensure I got through a first draft in less than six months.
Since then, though, the deadlines for my writing have not been fixed. As a result, I have no fewer than four partially-completed novels on the go. No matter how well-intentioned I am and how much I love writing, I am easily bored and I do flit from project to project, without a strict completion date. My own personal deadlines, usually, are not compelling enough for me to stick to them. They need to be externally-set and they need to have some sort of penalty built in: so a deadline set by a writing buddy, for example, would not be ‘real’ enough.
I have managed to complete a YA novel, because I (rather accidentally) attracted the interest of an agent and his deadlines were ‘real’ ones, in the twisted responses of my mind. I would meet them, rather than lose his representation. So what I need is someone to be on my back, with deadlines that feel authentic. Can anyone help? Is there, perchance, an app for that?
Noir at the Bar comes to Newcastle on 1st June and although I am new to hosting, the concept has been knocking around for about eight years. Having started in Philadelphia in 2008, the N@tB model spread across the US like a noir-y virus but I for one, am more than happy to catch it!
Noir at the Bar, ultimately, is about collecting readers and
writers of crime fiction in all of its guises, putting them together in a bar
and letting them mingle. Depending on which Noir at the Bar you visit, the
set-up can vary. The Newcastle event, the first one in the north east of
England, will feature a host of authors – both new and established – reading
snippets of their work for the audience’s delectation. There’s no requirement
to be published in order to read at N@tB. Similarly guests can read anything
so, even if they have a book published, they can read from their Work in
Progress if they wish. We’re a pretty easy going bunch.
In keeping with the spirit of the event, we hope that we’ll create a community of writers and readers. Writing doesn’t tend to be a particularly social aspect, but I’ve found, through visiting weekend courses like Crime and Publishment and events like Newcastle Noir, that writers actually relish socialising, especially with people who appreciate their work! We want to provide an opportunity for readers and writers to talk to one another as well as listen to some cracking work.
There’ll also be the opportunity for writers who aren’t on the bill to enter the wildcard round. One lucky reader’s name will be drawn at random and they will close the evening with their reading. How cool is that?
When picking the line-up for our initial foray into N@tB, I asked writers I’m familiar with from the region as well as inviting Tess Makovesky and Graham Smith, who appeared at Noir at the Bar Carlisle in March, to pass on the torch. Graham and Jay Stringer – who’s been responsible for the Glasgow incarnation of N@tB – were instrumental in helping me get the Newcastle chapter set up so here’s a shout out to them.
I also invited the Queen of Newcastle Noir, Jacky Collins, to co-host with me and I’m so thrilled to have her as my ‘partner-in-crime’.
The response we’ve received from people thus far has been incredible and just goes to show that there is a thriving community of readers and writers of noir in the north east. I think many of us have been out there on our own, thinking we were the only ones when, in fact, we just needed someone to get us together. We’ve been so popular that we’re already booking guests for Noir at the Bar NE #2.
Noir at the Bar is happening on Wednesday, June 1st at the Town Wall pub (Pink Lane, Newcastle). It starts at 7pm but space is limited so get there early to ensure you don’t miss out!