An insight into the publishing world…

Posts tagged ‘City of Culture’

Introducing Hull Author Nick Quantrill

Nick Quantrill has become a good friend of mine from Hull and is a big name in the literary scene up North – which is how I came to meet him. He is author of the Joe Geraghty trilogy published by Caffeine Nights Publishing and runs and attends a number of literary events in and around Hull. He’s successful and always likes to help others around him – me included – find opportunities to become more involved in the literary scene. He is the man who helped give me the opportunity to work on the BritCrime online literature festival. He is a lovely man and a talented writer. Below he discusses Hull, literature and crime writing…

NQ photo

Please introduce yourself and give a brief overview of you career.

I’m Nick Quantrill and I’m the writer of the Joe Geraghty trilogy, a series of crime novels set in Hull. Geraghty’s a former rugby league player turned Private Investigator and the books see him deal with a variety of issues. “Broken Dreams” is about the way the death of industry is still being felt in the city, “The Late Greats” sees him babysitting a reforming Britpop band and “The Crooked Beat” takes him into the murky world of smuggled cigarettes. May 2016 sees my fourth novel, “The Dead Can’t Talk”, published. It’s a Hull set crime novel, but with different protagonists.

What motivated you to move away from your previous job and into writing?

I only gave up my day job to write because of the birth of my daughter. After fainting at the price of a nursery place, I thought I’d combine looking after her with writing. How hard could it be? Turns out it’s pretty testing, but also a great opportunity. Of course, writing is my passion and what I want to do even though it’s incredibly difficult to build a career. Maybe I’ll have to get a day job again at some point, but it won’t stop me from writing.

You’ve become very popular and active in author and book events. Why is doing this so important? How has it helped you with your own career and networking?

Unless you’re with a large publisher and a priority for them, it’s all about being visible as an author and discoverability. Getting out into the real world is a great way to achieve that. It’s helpful in many ways, mainly because I’m directly connecting with readers. Beyond that, events and festivals are a great way to meet fellow writers and professionals. It feels like a snowball effect. Once people know your name and face, the more likely it seems you are to be asked to do more things. Lastly, and certainly not least, talking to real people is thrilling when you spend most of your day chained to a laptop!

How did you come to be involved in the BritCrime Festival and what was the most enjoyable part for you? What do you think we can learn from the experience?

I was lucky BritCrime was such an open and welcoming festival. Helen Smith, the organiser, sent a message out to see if other writers wanted to join her and I replied, realising it had the potential to be really interesting. Helen put in a huge amount of work and led the way, but it become a collective effort with the writers involved getting stuck in the promotional side of things. I really enjoyed taking part in my allocated panel, “Crime in the City”, but running the Facebook page for a spell was an education. What I took away from it was the power of the internet. It’s great to go out to festival and libraries, but readers may have many reasons for not wanting to attend such events. This was free and accessible in a different way. I think we’ll see a lot more of this in the future, as writers and readers use different technologies to connect.

Tell us a little bit about your books – how did they come about? Have they been well received?

As a crime writer, my first instinct when I decided to write a novel was to invent a police officer. It’s an enduringly popular way of doing things, but I quickly learned from a failed novel that it wasn’t for me. We have writers like Eva Dolan, Sarah Hilary and Luca Veste who are pushing that sub-genre in interesting directions, so I invented a Private Investigator and immediately felt more comfortable. My take on it was that he couldn’t be anything like the American archetype. He doesn’t have a string of femme fatales walking into his office and nor does he wise crack his way out of difficult situations. I also decided the crimes he’d investigate would have to ring true in an isolated an unloved northern city. I hope I can say my novels have been well-received by readers and peers, but as a writer I’m satisfied that each book shows a progression and more skill.

The latest in the Joe Geraghty triology.

The latest in the Joe Geraghty triology.

Why do you choose to set your books in Hull? How important is it for you to establish a literary scene in Hull?

Simply because it’s my home city and I want to understand it. When I started writing in 2006(ish), it felt like very few people were exploring the place on the page. At the time it was the country’s reigning ‘Crap Town’. Since then, the city has transformed to the point it’ll be UK City of Culture in 2017. It’s an amazing backdrop to have as a writer. I think the rise in the number of writers active in the city has been both organic and engineered. The council have put money into things like ‘Head in a Book’, a monthly literature night which allows a local writer to interview a high-profile guest. It deserves credit as it’s really built an audience and helped people like me develop new skills. I certainly want to be an active member of the literary scene in the city and that means giving as well as taking. I’ve been fortunate to receive help when I’ve asked, so I want to pay that back if I can.

What do you enjoy most about being an author, and what are the challenges?

I enjoy it all. It’s a privilege to be published, it’s a privilege to be invited to places to talk, but most of all it’s a privilege that people choose to spend their time reading my work. It’s mind-blowing, really, when I stop to think about it. The biggest challenge is finding readers, that sense of discoverability when there are so many other good writers out there. It’s not easy, but being generous and enjoying being part of the crime writing community (writers, readers, bloggers etc) goes a long way.

What are the benefits of publishing with a small press?

I think the major benefit is the closeness of relationship you enjoy, the sense that you’re fully involved in all the important decisions. A small press has to be nimble and lean, but they can’t afford to make mistakes. Their titles have to succeed and that means you’re all on the same page. It’s not the only way, of course. I know of writers with big publishers and their experiences range from terrible to excellent. Also, I know writers who have embraced self-publishing. It’s about what works for you.

What is it about crime writing that attracts you the most?

I’ve always been a big reader of the genre. I love the fact it’s such a broad church, but for me, it’s a brilliant tool for exploring contemporary society with. I’m a big fan of writers like Graham Hurley, George Pelecanos, Ian Rankin and Ray Banks. They’re all very different, but what connects them (in my opinion) is a curiosity about people and the way they interact with their surroundings.

And finally, what are you working on next?

The Dead Can’t Talk” will be published May 2016, so I’m currently working on edits. Here’s the blurb:

How far will Anna Stone, a disillusioned police officer on the brink of leaving her job, go to uncover the truth about her sister’s disappearance? Approached by Luke Carver, an ex-Army drifter she’s previously sent to prison, he claims to have information which will help her. As the trail leads from Hull and the Humber’s desperate and downtrodden to its great and good, an unsolved murder thirty years ago places their lives in danger, leaving Stone to decide if she can really trust a man who has his own reasons for helping.

You can follow Nick Quantrill on Twitter @nickquantrill

Find out more about him here:

Hull Central Library Book Fair – attracting top quality authors!

This is just a quick post to highlight the quality of events that are happening in Hull now. Hull has been awarded the title of City of Culture for 2017 and has since held a large number of literature and book events, a lot of which I’ve attended. When I heard about this book fair at Hull Central Library, I was very excited. It was a chance to meet a hell of a lot of extremely talented local authors.

Below are just a few people who exhibited at the event, and I outline why they are so important to literature in and around Hull.

Myself talking to authors at the Hull Book Fair

Myself talking to authors at the Hull Book Fair

Exhibiting at the event was Louise Beech, author of the brilliant book How to Be Brave. Her book is set in Hull and follows the story of a mother and daughter whose lives have been turned upside down by diabetes and the struggles that are brought with it. Running parallel to that story is the story of her grandfather, Colin Armitage, who is left stranded on a rescue boat when his trawler sinks in the middle of the North Sea. Louise’s book has become hugely popular since publication and looks to continue to make waves throughout not only our community but the larger publishing industry.

Louise Beech signing

Louise Beech signing a book for a eager customer

Margaret Dickinson, a legend of Hull’s and an phenomenally successful author, was exhibiting at the event and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have a chat with her.

The hugely popular Margaret Dickinson

The hugely popular Margaret Dickinson

Published by Pan Macmillan, Margaret is a local Lincolnshire author whose vast numbers of published works have touched hearts and invited readers from far and wide to experience her wonderful writing. I felt a little bit like I was meeting a celebrity when I talked to her. She described to me how her writing process was a lot like how a painter works – sketching in the outlines first, writing a quick first draft of the novel, before going back and adding in more detail, colour and life.

Brian Lavery, fellow Hull Alumni. Photo credit: Martin J Goodman of Barbican Press.

Brian Lavery, fellow Hull Alumni. Photo credit: Martin J Goodman of Barbican Press.

Brian Lavery, author of The Headscarf Revolutionaries, was exhibiting and, as always, brought warmth, humour and a general friendly and happy atmosphere to proceedings. Brian is a great friend of mine as we did our English with Creative Writing BA degrees together a few years ago. Since we graduated, he has written and published the enormously successful The Headscarf Revolutionaries. It’s a creative non-fiction book that takes us through the story of the Triple Trawler tragedy in Hull and the story of Lily Billocca, a widow who campaigned tirelessly to bring in new safety regulations for the trawlermen.

Marion Gamble and her children's books

Marion Gamble and her children’s books

I had a chat with Marion Gamble, local East Yorkshire children’s author. Marion works in education and has enjoyed big success with her books, with Moon Cat a particular favourite. Her beautifully illustrated books are igniting passion for the print book in a new generation of readers, when it is needed more than ever.

Anna Bransgrove, author of Simple Dame Fairfax

Anna Bransgrove, author of Simple Dame Fairfax

Anna Bransgrove particularly impressed me with her new novella Simple Dame Fairfax, a kind of ‘spin-off’ from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre which focuses on the character Mrs Fairfax and tells her own as of yet untold story. For more info on this, visit this link.

Annie Wilkinson

Annie Wilkinson

Last but not least, the final author I spoke to was Annie Wilkinson, a best-selling novelist who currently lives in Hull and whose novels are based there. Her books fetch 4-5* on Amazon and I cannot wait to read her latest, The Land Girls. She was a wonderful author to talk to.

There were many stands and authors that I didn’t get the time to visit – but all the more reason to attend more upcoming events. Hull has so much to offer.

Overall, what struck me was that sense of community and pride in Hull and the North, and I think this needs to continue to be communicated and shared through literature. A big passion of mine is to continue to promote publishing, books and literature in the North and organise and promote book events which show just what the North has to offer. Keep tuned for some upcoming events run by yours truly!

How To Be Brave by Louise Beech


This book makes me thoroughly proud to come from Hull. As the City of Culture for 2017, Hull has been getting a lot of criticism recently from its own people, who often come out with remarks such as “Yeah, right, City of Culture. There’s not even that many places to go for a night out, and there’s only so many times you can visit the Deep.”

It makes me really sad because it would take barely any time or effort at all, especially given the excitement being created by this diamond of a book, to discover just how much culture this city really has. It is brimming with life, with art, music, literature, history, sport, theatre, festivals and fairs. It has a wealth of exciting history, which talented individuals from all areas of the city use in their artwork. And this book is no exception.

The reason this book is such a triumph in my eyes is because it embodies that tradition which makes Hull such an amazing place: it connects the present to the past and in doing so, creates a richly cultural and compelling experience. In the same way that our museums and Freedom Festivals breathe life back into Hull’s past by celebrating it in the present, How To Be Brave entwines a stunning emotional historical tale with a present-day narrative and leaves the reader thoroughly engrossed in both.

When nine-year-old Rose is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, Natalie must use her imagination to keep her daughter alive. They begin dreaming about and seeing a man in a brown suit who feels hauntingly familiar, a man who has something for them. Through the magic of storytelling, Natalie and Rose are transported to the Atlantic Ocean in 1943, to a lifeboat, where an ancestor survived for fifty days before being rescued. Poignant, beautifully written and tenderly told, How To Be Brave weaves together the contemporary story of a mother battling to save her child’s life with an extraordinary true account of bravery and a fight for survival in the Second World War. A simply unforgettable debut that celebrates the power of words, the redemptive energy of a mother’s love … and what it really means to be brave.

How To Be Brave explores the story of Natalie and her daughter Rose, whose lives are turned upside down by the discovery that Rose has Type 1 diabetes and must learn to administer insulin injections for the rest of her life. Parallel to this story is that of Colin Armitage, Natalie’s grandfather who became stranded on a lifeboat out at sea with a number of his shipmates, long before he was married or had children. However, the two stories do not run separately from each other: Colin visits Natalie and Rose as a ghost-like figure at their greatest hours of need, and Natalie uses her grandfather’s story as a bargaining chip. Every time Rose allows Natalie to administer her insulin injection, Natalie will tell another instalment of Colin’s story, using his diary as a guide. Colin’s story of survival helps Natalie and Rose survive their own ordeal.

In writing all of her characters at times of both happiness and sadness, in desperation and in joy, at times of conflict and love, Louise gives a roundness and 3-dimensional quality to them all. The great thing is that none of them are perfect, which makes them all the more real. Rose’s struggle is heartbreaking, and she is such an inspirational girl, but at times her misbehaviour can be very trying and so it’s easy to understand why Natalie gets so frustrated and upset. On the flip side, considering that this is a problem that will affect her entire life, I could understand why she behaved the way she did. The fact that the characters roused such internal conflict within myself proves how powerfully created each character is.

In Colin’s relationships with his shipmates, Louise Beech manages to capture that true Hullian sense of camaraderie that is truly something special. The men are MEN: tough, masculine, no-nonsense hard workers, but they are not afraid of showing their loyalties to one another. Being at sea forms true, lasting friendships. In shared experience and mutual will to survive, their relationships with each other only grow stronger and more intense, despite frustrations often leading to conflict. They find ways of comforting one another through a distressing situation.

“The moonlight equalised them; they shuffled for the best spot in a craft designed for half their number and they sang softly until sleep washed whispers away, a mixture of accents and tones and depth.”

This is mirrored in Natalie’s relationship with Rose: in times of crisis Natalie grows angry and Rose lashes out at her mother, but having to go through the trauma of dealing with Rose’s diabetes ultimately makes their bond much stronger. The book tackles the subject of grief and hardship in such a wonderfully unique way. Each word feels magical and makes the story more captivating.

Even in describing something ugly, Louise manages to use such beautiful, captivating language. For example:

“One wound cut his face almost in two, like a forward slash dividing lines of poetry.”

This kind of writing appears throughout the book and adds to that bittersweet undercurrent that runs throughout. It is such a gorgeously-written book. It is really quite difficult to put into words what this book did to me. Louise couldn’t have written a more perfect debut novel, and her talented team at Orenda Books have a real masterpiece here. 100% my favourite book of the year.

Introducing Author and Journalist Brian Lavery

Today’s interviewee is a very dear friend of mine from Hull University (where we undertook our English with Creative Writing undergraduate degrees together). Brian is such an inspiring. friendly, and talented man. As he explains in this interview, he’s been such a success in a number of areas. He is a truly skilled writer. Tonight, I will be attending the launch for his book The Headscarf Revolutionaries (published by Barbican Press, a publisher for which I once interned) at the Maritime Museum in Hull. Take a read of this interview with the writer in anticipation of my book review and blog post covering the event itself!

Brian Lavery, fellow Hull Alumni. Photo credit: Martin J Goodman of Barbican Press.

Brian Lavery, fellow Hull Alumni. Photo credit: Martin J Goodman of Barbican Press.

Please introduce yourself and tell us about your background and your career.

My name is Brian Lavery and I am a writer, journalist and late-comer to academia. When I write creative nonfiction I am Brian W. Lavery, so as not to be confused with another Scot with the same name as me, who also happens to be a world authority on maritime history. So, just my luck that the first book I get published has a maritime theme. Perhaps that is why the phrase “lucky as a Brian” does not exist.
The other Brian, however, is far more encumbered by success than I – and very well known too – so I was advised to give myself a middle initial to prevent confusion. However, I do not have a middle name, (I joke with my publisher that when I was a kid we could not afford it!) So I use my father’s initial. It’s a nice wee tribute too. He was he best-read man I knew, that did not teach or write, at least not professionally.

I was born in Glasgow’s East End in 1959 and I am told I am apparently from a disadvantaged background, although I must say I did not notice this as my mother and father did a great job of disguising it. I am the fourth of six sons. My father was a sheet metal worker and my mother a shop assistant. I have been writing since ever I can remember. My father always encouraged me and was a big fan of education in general. He worked in shipyards and factories and was keen I should not do similar. ‘The heaviest thing a smart man will lift is a steel rule,’ he said. His advice stuck. I even used it as a piece of dialogue recently in a short story.

I have been a regional and national print and broadcast journalist and now latterly an academic and writer. I have edited two weekly newspapers; news edited two regional dailies, and held various roles on national and foreign papers and magazines. I have also worked as a reporter, features writer, sub-editor, publisher, PR and media consultant, speechwriter and contract publisher. I returned to higher education in 2008 and recently completed a PhD with the University of Hull’s English Department. My new book, The Headscarf Revolutionaries (Lillian Bilocca and the Hull Triple Trawler Disaster) (Barbican Press) resulted from the research for that doctorate.

Having already been very successful in the writing industry and working in journalism for 25 years, what drove you to go to university and then later to do a PhD?

Shakespeare tells us the world’s a stage and we are players etc., well, this is the third act to my play. When I did my undergraduate degree I loved it. I was still working. I had to, to pay the fees etc., But I realised I had found something new. I am not a religious man, but going back to university, for me was how I imagine it must be for some folk “finding God.” When the University of Hull offered me a PhD place (and paid the fees and gave me a tutoring post too) I did not hesitate. At 52, I was Hull’s oldest scholarship boy. I also had two years of teaching that I thoroughly enjoyed and hope to continue. I also owe a vast debt to my wife and my two daughters for their support in helping to make my third act a reality.

Of journalism, writing for radio, creative non-fiction and short fiction, which do you find the most challenging and why? Which do you find the most rewarding?

If you are doing them correctly, i.e. to the very best of your ability, each time, every time, then they should all be equally challenging and rewarding. The challenge being getting the story, script, poem or whatever out there and the reward being in knowing that you did your best in so doing. That said, I couldn’t remember a time I did not write. And when the chance came to get into newspapers I jumped at it. I dropped out of university and set off to college in Sheffield from Glasgow, with dreams of being a latter-day Damon Runyan or Raymond Chandler.
I became fascinated with every aspect of newspapers, their production and processes and as a result managed to get into senior positions relatively early. Aged 24, I was the country’s youngest editor when I took over the Humberside Weekly News in 1983. My other writing took a back seat as I married, had a family, and moved onto to national print and broadcast work and so on. Most of the time I was based in Hull and later a lot of my work was freelance. I also worked as a “UK” correspondent for foreign titles. Journalism brought me a degree of success and travel, but most of all I loved doing it and swore that if that feeling left, I would quickly follow. I still wrote poems, prose etc., but did little with them. As John Lennon said, ‘Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.’

What advice would you give for anyone starting out in the journalism industry?

If you want to be a journalist, don’t do it. If you NEED to be a journalist, then well done, because you are half way there. Folk always make way for somebody that knows where they are going. I am not big on advice. I did not follow it as a young man and rarely give it as an older one.

Print journalism – which was my principal practice – is vastly different from when I started.

What was the biggest change you saw in journalism within your time in the industry?

When people ask me why I left mainstream journalism, I tell them I didn’t. It left me. Print journalism – which was my principal practice – is vastly different from when I started. There was no Internet, computers etc., just paper, ink and typewriters. But it is not just the vast technological change, which is welcome, but it is more that the fact that the actual print model is now, in the main, a dead man walking. I no longer felt at home there. As I said earlier the “feeling” of loving doing it left me and I decided to do something new. I hung on only to help support my family.
Many papers and their attendant websites are simple click-bait hubs and because the big corporate publishers missed the bus by not taking new technologies as seriously as they should have, print media, especially local papers, are struggling. Sadly the knee-jerk reaction to that decline was to throw the baby out with the bath water and as result mature, experienced journalists like those who taught me, are a rare sight indeed. I still feel there will be a place good news outlets, whether online or in print. But it can’t all be about money. The old Press barons like Beaverbrook, knew this and often made losses while making great newspapers. But I will halt with my philosophy of news, lest I bore your readers to death.

You are about to publish
The Headscarf Revolutionaries with Barbican Press, an independent publisher based in Hull and London. How did this come about?

I had a quite bit of interest in my book before it was finished. But I simply felt no-one would give me the dedication and support that I knew I would get from Barbican. I knew some of their writers and their works. I liked what they did – and how they did it. I was in good company, so when Barbican offered to publish my book, I agreed. But it was year before I signed a contract. As a young man, I would have jumped at the first offer from the first publisher. As an older man, I am not as ready to jump and not as easily impressed. That’s great thing about being “an overnight success” after just 30 years. I put a lot of store in trust and integrity and Barbican excels in both those departments. They also are gifted editors. But most importantly – they actually care.

What do you feel are the advantages of publishing with an independent publisher?

Input. You are much more part of the process in a smaller indie firm. I am presently ten per cent of their writing stable, as opposed to just another assignment for an appointed editor in a big publishing house.

What ways do you find are most effective in marketing yourself and your books?

Having a background in public relations and journalism, gives me the advantage of knowing what to do. Knowing folk in the media helps too. But like selling anything, if the product is dodgy it will come back to bite you. The most effective way to market a book is to write it well, to the best of your abilities. The rest is in the lap of the gods. As for marketing yourself, I find being a shameless self-publicist is a positive boon. It is also hard work. Go to the readings, the signings and do the interviews. Work at it. After all, the readers are not going to come round to your house.

Like selling anything, if the product is dodgy it will come back to bite you. The most effective way to market a book is to write it well, to the best of your abilities.

What fuelled your interest in Lillian Bilocca’s story and in the maritime/trawler history of Hull?

It was the story of Lillian Bilocca and the Hessle Road women that captivated me, more than an interest in the trawling industry or maritime history per se. In 1988, I wrote Mrs Bilocca’s obituary for The Times. They used just five paragraphs. I always thought she deserved so much more. A mere 30 years or so later, I got round to writing it. The story of these brave women and their fight to improve safety at sea is one of great courage. It is the story of this city in the 20th century.

How do you feel being named the City of Culture for 2017 will help boost Hull’s literary scene?

Make no mistake, Hull richly deserves to be recognised as a city of culture, for that is what it is – and has long been. It was so when I arrived here more than 30 years ago – and certainly long before. It is not as if the city suddenly became more cultured on the day of the announcement. When that announcement was made I was dragged in as a ‘talking head’ for a local radio interview and told them that I was obviously pleased, but wary. Pleased that my great adopted home city was getting the recognition it deserved, but wary that we might be overwhelmed by swarms of outsiders, ‘consultants’ and folk from “That London” telling us how cultured we are. We in Hull already know how cultured we are. Without sounding too cynical, my main fear is that local writers, artists, playwrights, poets, painters etc., who have been – and still are on a daily basis – the mainstay of our cultural capital, may be overlooked or under appreciated or worse still, subsumed. I do not want a “W1A” scenario where the “Perfect Curve” brigade come in, steal our metaphorical watch, tell us the time, and sell us the watch back. I am also worried that the future of the arts in our city may fall prey to a “sub-committee” culture. After all, when did you last see a statue built to a great sub-committee? My bitter and twisted sarcasm aside, I am confident the arts community of our city will not allow that sort of thing to happen. It is too great a community. If you throw a penny at a crowd in Hull you will hit a poet, writer, musician or other artist with it. Our literary scene will grow and enjoy many boosts with or without assistance, whatever the year.

You can find out more about Brian and his work here.

Brian is also very active on Twitter here.

You can read more about Barbican Press and the publisher Martin Goodman here.

Do you have any questions for Brian? Please include them in the comments below and I will get them answered!

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