Pure Talent next week

What does  “Dystopian novel” mean? We’ve taken the phrase as our theme for this Thursday’s Pure Fiction event at The Old George in Newcastle. Fancy joining us to listen to Sue Miller and Emma Whitehall reading from and discussing their work?

Pure Fiction celebrates writers of fiction and their work. Previous events have featured Jennifer C Wilson, Kitty Fitzgerald, Sandy Chadwin, Carol Clewlow, L.A. Craig, Rod Glenn and Victoria Watson. On Thursday 16th November it’ll be the turn of writers Sue Miller and Emma Whitehall. Host Elaine Cusack will let them run with the Dystopian novel theme and we’ll have the chance to ask questions and chat with them afterwards. Elaine’s colleague, Sandy Chadwin will kick off the evening with a Tall Tale.

Doors open 6.45pm and the evening starts at 7pm. Tickets cost £3 and can be bought in  advance or on the door. Here’s more information on Thursday’s authors…

emmapicEmma Whitehall is a writer, reviewer and spoken word performer based  in the North East of England. Emma specialises in supernatural fiction, and has been published in the United Kingdom, America, Mexico and Ireland. Her Flash Fiction has been longlisted for the Bath Novella in Flash Award, and shortlisted for the Fish Flash Fiction Award.

For more years than she wants to remember, Sue Miller  worked with families and communities locally and nationally as a psychologist, teacher and manager. Those experiences have given her knowledge and insight into the stories we all become: ordinary people often made extraordinary by what life throws at us. Sue’s debut novel 20/20 Vision They Didn’t See it Coming was published earlier this year and on Thursday she’ll  read from her current work in progress, a prequel to 20/20 Vision.

Sue Miller




October is the busiest month

We managed to sellotape Sandy “Busy Bee” Chadwin to his laptop for 10 minutes so he could write this blog…

For reasons that escape me, but are partly do with the time of year, I have a fair bit to do this autumn. Three gigs, to be precise, with two of them on the same day but it should be fun.

SandyFirst out of the hatch is They Walk That Should Not Walk, a talk that Elaine Cusack and I will be giving at the Northumberland Park Community Room (it’s attached to the café, or so I’m told) at 1:00pm this coming Thursday the 12th  of October. It’s part of the ‘Age Takes Centre Stage’ shenanigans that the council have put together for this month and it’s free though I think you need to register. Fuller details are here. If you’ve not been to the park (it’s between the golf course in North Shields and the Tynemouth Lodge pub) it’s a charming little place complete with its own pet cemetery and remains of a mediaeval hospital. And there’s a café. The talk (or chat more likely) will look at the history and fascination of the ghost story and if you’re coming, bring along memories of your favourite whether it’s one from Charles Dickens, EF Benson, Mrs Gaskell, or one of the James boys – Henry and MR. Should be fun, albeit in a somewhat macabre way.

Following that, I will have a brief pause before heading off to the Exchange in North Shields where, along with the Cracketts (a husband and wife folk duo) I’ll be presenting Tales from the Dead House at 7:30. This is an evening of spooky and macabre stories (from me) and songs (courtesy of the Cracketts) and is ticketed at £3.00, available on the door. Storytelling is a thing I do, unless politely but firmly stopped, and fits nicely with folk music and as the nights creep into the day, it’s the time to sit and listen, if only to escape the darkness outside. In the US they have the tradition of the campfire tale, a creepy and often gory story told while sitting round the fire while camping. Many of the urban myths we are so fond of probably started off as such tales – you know the kind of thing I mean. The Vanishing Hitchhiker (driver gives lift to girl only she disappears while still in the car and on subsequent investigation he discovers that she was run down and died on that very spot); Hairy Hands (woman gives lift to old lady but notices that she has suspiciously hairy hands and so when the old lady gets out at a garage to visit the toilet, the driver drives off and when she looks inside the bag left by the old lady, she finds it full of bloodied knives and a police investigation finds the clothes of an elderly woman in the toilet at the garage) and there are many others. I was actually told the hairy hands one by a friend back in the late ‘70s with the addition that the old lady was in fact the Yorkshire Ripper, who was still at large.

 MRJames1900Then, a full week later, I shall be giving a talk on the aforementioned MR James at the Old George in Newcastle at 7:30pm on the 19th. That has the bargain price of a mere £2.50. Buy your ticket in advance here. MR James is, I will be arguing, one of the best, if not the actual best, ghost story writer in English. He used to write them to tell to his Cambridge fellow dons on Christmas Eve and they are a potent mix of donnish humour and subtle horror. I did my dissertation on him back in the mid- ‘80s when you weren’t meant to take things like ghost stories as serious literature. My supervisor spent the first week or so constantly thinking I was writing about Henry James (no mean slouch at the ghost story himself as anyone who’s read ‘The Turn of the Screw’ will attest) and the external examiner mourned that I had wasted my time on such a petty subject. But now, Newcastle University does a module on them as part of its Eng. Lit degree or certainly did so a few years back, and you cannot buy a critical study of James or ghost stories in general for less than £30 odd. Hmm, perhaps I should dig out that dissertation…

Anyone for tennis?

Last Sunday Sandy Chadwin participated in a literary cricket match in Cullercoats. It was The Cullercoats Test, part of the IRON in the Soul Festival…..

Sandy in colourThis time last week, for reasons that remain complicated and mysterious to me, I found myself playing cricket in front of a small crowd. This has made me consider my relationship to sport in books.

                Now I am not a sporty person. I have only ever been to two football matches, one cricket match and at school I was always the last boy chosen to be on the team. I rarely watch sporting events, though I do have a soft spot for the ball-by-ball commentary the radio does for the Test Matches. So, it is not altogether surprising that my library has little sport related material in it.

Amongst the many sports that I do not play is golf. So it is slightly odd that after the Jeeves tales, my favourite PG Wodehouse stories are his Oldest Member ones which are all about that particular sport. Wodehouse himself was a mildly obsessive player and was known to complain that if he hadn’t had to make a living doing all that writing and so on, he might have ended up with a half-decent handicap. Even if you’ve never played or watched a game and don’t know your mashie from your driver, do give them a go. They’re the literary equivalent of exquisite dainties to be relished and lingered over. And the Jeeves & Wooster stories are even better. Then there’s the golf match between James Bond and Goldfinger in the novel of the latter’s name which is surprisingly tense and entertaining to read. That has more to do with Ian Fleming’s underestimated writing skills than any putative interest I might have in the game. And the Magic Roundabout tie-in book, Dougal’s Scottish Holiday (written by Eric Thompson, Emma’s dad, who improvised the TV show’s narration) has the immortal line: ‘”Niblick?” said Angus. “At your age? ‘Tis a mashie-niblick at least.”’*thompsons

                Now, those of a certain age may remember a humour writer called Michael Green. He wrote an endless series of comic books with the running title of The Art of Coarse [insert subject matter here]. They were everywhere, along with those silver-spined Executioner thrillers and Alastair MacLean novels. Anyway, the first of this epic series was The Art of Coarse Rugby. Now, I had to play rugby at two the educational establishments I ended up attending and have been left with a deep and profound loathing of the game and all who have any doings with it. I do, however, have a soft spot for this comic guide to it. Possibly because it’s mainly about cheating and one-upmanship and has a happy disregard for the rules that would have reduced certain masters and enthusiastic pupil-players to apoplexy.

                And that does seem to be pretty much it. Terry Pratchett’s Unseen Academicals (football) has its moments but they never entirely gel for me. And there was that children’s book The Goal Keeper’s Revenge & Other Stories which every boy had presented to him during the ‘70s but which I never read. Actually, if anyone reading this did read it, give me a shout. Remembering it, I’m now mildly interested in what it was about/like. Anyway, Dick Francis’ horse racing thrillers are nearly always fun. They were co-written by his wife, by the way, who was never given any credit as the publishers thought acknowledging the input of a woman (!) would damage sales. Hey ho.

                But to end on a happier note, I cannot speak for the rest of the mixed gender team that I played with, but it was fun and you never know, I might have a go at playing again.  Or at least writing about it.

*Dougal’s Scottish Holiday is worth reading for many reasons, not least being that it’s the funniest portrayal of ‘professional’ Scotsmen that I’ve read, and I’m an enthusiastic ‘amateur’.

The Power of Genre

 Over to Sandy Chadwin for our latest blog…

1 TYEUFV4SoXzBcevMtS0uzgSO congratulations to Naomi Alderman whose novel The Power has won the Bailey’s Women’s Fiction Award for this year. This is interesting as, to the best of my knowledge, this is the first time a book that is openly identified as being within a genre has won a literary prize. For most of my reading life genre fiction has been looked down upon with weary or angered dismissal by the great and the good and when something genre-like is lauded it of course ceases to be considered as part of that genre. This is why novels such as 1984 and Brave New World are usually to be found in the general fiction section of shops and libraries. Some authors were in the habit of denying that what they wrote was in fact within a genre. Margaret Atwood describes her work as speculative fiction and, it is said, has angrily dismissed suggestions that The Handmaid’s Tale might in fact be SF. The boundaries can be fluid. Does John le Carré write novels or thrillers? He’s treated with a respect that the authors of the latter rarely receive. But then Len Deighton’s cold war spy book Funeral in Berlin is now published as a Penguin Classic. Salmon Rushdie’s first novel, Grimus, was originally sold as a SF novel and according to Brian Aldiss, Midnight’s Children was going to be as well until at the last minute the publishers decided to market it as a literary book.

                And this is the thing. Genre is as much to do with marketing as it is with identifying the style of book. So, when Penguin originally published John Wyndham’s novels which involve walking carnivorous plants, aliens taking over the world’s oceans and other such things, it carefully avoided packaging them as science fiction at all. Indeed the only reference to the genre comes in the little bit near the beginning where they tell us about the author which contains the gorgeously dismissive line ‘[he] decided to try a modified form of what is unhappily known as “science fiction”.’ It’s like that business of calling ‘comics’ ‘graphic novels’ that took off in the ‘80s when comics became briefly trendy.

                But not everything has changed. Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2015 novel, The Buried Giant was greeted with derision and dismay by the critics with Private Eye’s book man being particularly scathing, his premise being that the novel could not be of any artistic value because of its fantastical elements. Ironically the following issue bemoaned the failure to recognise the late Terry Pratchett’s literary skills. Pratchett himself complained about this in his speech when he accepted the Carnegie Award:

                                ‘Recent Discworld books have spun on such concerns as the nature of belief,

 politics and even of journalistic freedom, but put in one lousy dragon…’

So what has changed? The success of the Lord of the Rings films and the Game of Thrones TV series with non-genre readers obviously have had something to do with it. But I think it is more down to writers like Naomi Aldermen who refuse to accept the rigid demarcations and, in Ms Alderman’s case, leapt at the chance of writing a Doctor Who novel. PD James and Ruth Rendell’s detective novels paved the way by being steadily accepted by the better class of critic and the following generation who are building on it. Harry Potter may have something to do with it. Certainly Professor Harold Bloom statement that he would rather children did not read at all than read JK Rowling’s books did a lot to reveal the degree to which certain people see reading not as a pleasure but as a stand to look down on people from.

                Well, here’s hoping anyway.

Sandy Chadwin is co-running the next  North Tyneside Writer’s Circle this Saturday 11am to 1pm in North Shields Library.

Pure Fiction on Thursday!

Pure Fiction logoPure Fiction is The Next Page’s regular literary event, dedicated to writers of fiction and their work.

We held two Pure Fiction events in Whitley Bay last year featuring writers Kitty Fitzgerald, Carol Clewlow, L.A. Craig plus The Next Page’s Jennifer C. Wilson and Sandy Chadwin,

Our third Pure Fiction event takes place this Thursday 11th May  in Newcastle’s oldest pub, The Old George Inn, just off the Bigg Market. The evening features Rod Glenn and Victoria Watson.

Rod is the author of best-selling Sinema series, the first of which introduces us to the film-obsessed serial killer, Han Whitman. Victoria is a writer, copy-editor and Creative Writing tutor. She has won awards for both her fiction and non-fiction.Rod Glenn

Victoria-WatsonDoors open 6.45pm and event kicks off at 7pm.  Sandy Chadwin will kick off the evening with one of his Tall Tales and the event is hosted by his Next Page colleague, Elaine Cusack.

old georgeTickets cost £3 and we advise booking in advance from Ticketsource.

Writers need people!

James Tucker is our guest blogger today….

I once remarked to my then-girlfriend about how artistic people could be hard work sometimes.  ‘Yes, you certainly are!’ was her response.  I hadn’t really thought of myself in those terms but then I felt good about it.  I could now strike official Artistic Poses, and my various gripes (block, comparisons, criticisms, doubt, obsession, etc) would be justified because I was a Tormented Genius.

Sometimes, though, the “artist” business strikes me as odd because writing is almost inherently introverted.  You can do it in company but it boils down to you spending a lot of time with a piece of paper or keyboard and your attention focused on the work.  It’s the kind of art that someone shy and possibly without any previously detected artistic talent or temperament can aspire to.

But I’m not sure there is any such thing as a pure introvert.  Sooner or later, you will need to get some motivation or perspective from another person to keep going.  Not to mention that writing is also a craft, and has to be learnt.  One of my lecturers defined a writer as someone who would write even if they knew for a fact nobody else would ever see it, but that would be unpleasant and inefficient at the least.James again

So here’s a rub: unless you are that rare person who writes entirely for your own enjoyment, then at some point, somebody else is going to have to read it.  Or, you will have to read it to them.  It may feel like you are exposing something deeply personal; if you have spent a long time with your work, you may even be a little jealous of sharing it.  You will discover whether being heard is a want or a need, or both.

After which, some of the people exposed to your work may say something back.  If you are lucky, it may be something you can use to improve, and you take it as such.  If you are very lucky, you may be that even rarer person whose first work is an instant success.  But that happens less often than you think; To Kill a Mockingbird is often called a brilliant first novel when in fact it was Harper Lee’s first published novel, there was at least one before that didn’t make it.

Of course taking a compliment can be pretty tough, sometimes even less comfortable than criticism.  Yet you probably aspire to more of it.

(Just to prove a point… this blog post is better for exposure to the Next Page group (Jennifer C Wilson, Elaine Cusack, Sandy Chadwin) and the Elementary Writers group run by Victoria Watson, not to mention John Evans at the Phil.)

If you successfully tread the path to major author, you will be expected to do readings and signings with talks.  Best get some practice in early.  You don’t have to be Jackanory but competence and comfort will be necessary.

So… don’t let the road be too lonely.  Sometimes you may walk together in companionable silence, sometimes pause to share provisions and compare blisters, perhaps even take time to plan your route with someone.  Or just nod to a fellow traveller as you pass.  It’ll be worth it.

Pure Fear: a true story

L.A. Craig perfomed at our second Pure Fiction event in Whitley Bay library last November. Here are her reflections on that experience…

The email from Elaine said, ‘Invitation to Read your Work’. My reaction? No way, Jose, not on your nelly, never in a million years.


Lisa reading b&wBecause I’m not a speaking out loud kind of person, and anyway I can’t even speak that loud, but mostly– who would want to listen? Sure, I’d had snippets published here and there, but in theory, I’d never actually gone public before. Not in the flesh.

Elaine mentioned there would be questions.

What? Don’t think so. Good lord, I don’t even know what I’m about, never mind complete strangers wanting answers.

Sleep on it, I thought. Come up with a fail-safe reason to turn this down in the nicest possible way.

I’m not the most eloquent bod off paper. It’s one of the reasons I write. So, for me, being asked to perform, even in a room no bigger than a kitchen-diner (well, maybe a bit), was on a par with standing naked in the Albert Hall with everybody pointing. Feel the fear (you know the rest), my partner said, but I was having none of it. Mind firmly made up, I went to bed.

Next day, I emailed my response.

If I was billed as the newbie, baby, novice writer… so as not to get anyone’s hopes up, then…maybe I’d do it.

Where did that come from?

Well – down in the deepest darkest corner of my subconscious, I knew I had no choice. If I wanted to be a big grown-up writer, I’d have to kick Nervous Nelly to the kerb.

In the weeks beforehand I practised my bestest reading out loud.

“Louder!” said Elaine.

I practised reading slowly.

“Slower!” Elaine said.

Font magnified to see-it-from-the-moon-size, tons of white space as a reminder to breathe – I placed my comfort blanket of words in a writery folder.

The actual day. Good God, people were turning up – mostly to hear Carol Clewlow, but the poor souls would be forced to listen to me first. Sorry folks. Let’s get this over with as quickly as possible (oh no you don’t, you’ll read slowly).

So, I read in my loudest, slowest voice. Yes, my kneecaps were anxious and all my saliva nipped off on a last-minute city break. At one point, there was even an out of body experience (this isn’t really you speaking, yes, it is, no it’s not), but…but…but – I got through it, and at the end, lovely audience members came up for a chat. I couldn’t believe they’d been listening. And some even had questions I could answer!

So, cheers Elaine, for the kick in the pants. And to any other writers out there in need of a swift boot up the backside (administered with patience and encouragement, of course) – Elaine Cusack’s your woman.

Pure Fiction logoL.A. Craig (Lisa, when she’s not being all writery) is a writer based in Whitley Bay.  She received a New Fiction Bursary from the Northern Writers’ Awards in 2014 for her children’s novel, Hosannas and Sleeping Bags, and her short story Flour Baby was broadcast on Radio 4 the following year.

Lisa is currently working on her second children’s novel and has recently been signed by Jane Willis at United Agents.