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Posts tagged ‘Hull’

Introducing Crime Author Michael Knaggs

As explained in this book review, I met Michael Knaggs at Waterstones in Hull, where he impressed me with his willingness to engage with the general reading public without ‘hard-selling’ his book. I have since got to know him more and he is an enthusiastic and charming author. His third book in the Hotel St Kilda trilogy is about to be published and I seriously enjoyed Catalyst, the first book in the series. Find out more about this Hull-born author in the interview below, in which he demonstrates that there is more than just one way to become a successful author…

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Please introduce yourself and give us a bit of background to your life and career.

I was born in Hull in 1944 and lived there until just after my 22nd birthday. During that time I attended Hull Grammar School where I wrote a short story for a school magazine which, 55 years later, turned up again as the opening scene in my first book!

After attaining a Higher National Diploma in Chemistry at Hull Technical College, I moved to Thurso, Caithness, in 1967 to work as an Experimental Officer at Dounreay Atomic Power Station, and relocated to Salford to complete a degree in Chemistry two years later. There at the University, in addition to getting my degree, I got a wife as well – Carol, who worked in the laboratory there.

From there up to my retirement in 2005, I worked for Kellogg Company – the global breakfast cereal manufacturers – latterly as HR Director with responsibility for Pay and Benefit policy across the Company’s European area operation.

I live in Prestwich, Manchester, with Carol, my bride of 45 years! Our great passion is hill-walking and we do at least one long distance walk each year. This year we are undertaking the West Highland Way for the second time and later in the year will be tackling the Wolds Way in East Yorkshire – close to my home. We have two children and two grand-children, all of whom live close to us.

How long have you been writing, and why did you decide to publish a novel?

I began writing after I retired at the end of 2005. But long before then I had the story very clearly formed in my mind and the first thing I did before starting on the manuscript was to set it out in full in abbreviated form. And although I had never written a book before I must have produced the equivalent in length of about ten or fifteen over the years in the form of reports, employee policy documents and communications, presentations, talks, speeches, training courses, etc. So at least the process of stringing words together was a natural one for me.

It was never my intension to write a trilogy. I simply had a story I wanted to tell which was too long for a single book, so I ended up with an accidental trilogy!

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My copy of Catalyst – as illustrated by Michael Knagg’s wife Carol

Tell us a little bit about Catalyst- ‘sell’ your book to our readers!

Catalyst is a crime/political thriller dealing with street crime and, more specifically, how to tackle it in the context of the wider issue of law and justice.

When three brothers, leaders of a brutal street gang, are lured to an isolated cul-de-sac and shot dead by a mysterious stranger, the subsequent euphoria on the estate where they lived is picked up by the national press. Tom Brown, a Member of Parliament for the Opposition Party, whose constituency includes the estate, seizes the opportunity to exploit the story by leading a crusade to implement a New Justice Regime which would include uncompromising methods for tackling street gangs.

The book follows Tom’s efforts to win support – assisted by a local campaigner, George Holland, and a freelance reporter, Tony Dobson – along with the parallel story of the hunt for the killer. When the killer is eventually caught and sentenced, the two storylines come together in dramatic fashion. At the same time the gang sets out for revenge, targeting George and descending in large numbers on the quiet village where he lives, armed and ready to kill.

Meanwhile, Tom’s Party leader, Andrew Donald, is pursuing his own agenda….

I believe the book will appeal to a wide variety of readers of all ages. It features heroic characters of all types and vintages who I hope people will readily identify with.

What research did you undertake for the book? How did you manage the capture the voice and tone of the various environments within the story – the gang culture, the political and policing environments, the court room?

Researching the book was one of the most fulfilling parts of the whole experience – and in some ways, it was very easy. Through Wikipedia and Google you can find out every bit of information that has ever been discovered, recorded, collected, hypothesised or anything. This created a temptation for me to include a mass of technical, factual data which added nothing to the story, but made me sound very smart and knowledgeable. I’ve learned my lesson, though, and only the essential bits go in to the stories now!

I also met with a number of people – political representatives, lawyers and members of the police – who helped me a great deal and to whom I shall be ever grateful for their time and interest, as well as the great incites into their areas of work – and without the attendant extraneous information I’d got from other sources.

I see that your wife is also the book’s illustrator – it captures the book perfectly. What was your experience working together creatively? Was there much trial and error?

Carol is a water-colour artist whose preferred subject matter is pastoral landscapes and pet portraits, so the cover images were well outside her normal comfort zone. Working together on the cover designs was really great and all credit to Carol for producing exactly what I had envisaged for both books. It must be difficult enough for an artist getting onto paper or canvas what is in their own mind. It’s a step beyond that producing what is in someone else’s mind. Yes, there was a lot of trial and error – though perhaps ‘error’ isn’t the right word. And with the second book – Heaven’s Door – after we had seemingly wrapped up the artwork, I realised the image was the wrong way round to how I had described it in the book – so Carol re-drafted it, with – I have to admit – amazing patience and calm!

You clearly love crime writing – so, why this genre?

Up to when I retired I didn’t read much at all, but what I did enjoy mostly was crime fiction. But the main reason is the nature of the story itself which had been growing in my mind for a couple of decades, stemming from the short story I wrote at grammar school and expanding into this substantial saga. That story was about street crime so that’s the genre where it fitted. I didn’t choose to become a crime writer, as such; it just happened that’s where the story fitted.

I met you at a book signing in Waterstones – why do you think it’s important to engage with readers face-to-face, and what do you enjoy about marketing your work? Is there anything you feel that authors need to do more of?

Because of my virtual anonymity in a genre which is saturated with books, authors, and manuscripts waiting to become books, I have to get to people as best I can to persuade them to try my work. Meeting them in book shops is the best opportunity to do that. In fact, I sell the majority of my books at the sort of event where we met in Hull. If I had an agent and full PR behind me out in the market place, then I would not need to reach out to potential readers in this way. And whereas it would be nice to have someone out there promoting my work – I’d certainly relish that situation – I would miss out on one of the things I like most. That is the opportunity to share with people the journey that has brought me face to face with them in Waterstones or WH Smiths, or wherever. (Incidentally, I am exceptionally grateful to the store managers at all the branches of those stores where I have been given the opportunity to raise the profile of my books)

In so far as what authors should do more of, I’m not sure I can answer that for the whole spectrum of practitioners, but I would certainly encourage new authors to try what I do. It’s amazing how interested the reading public are in hearing about the process that turns an idea for a tale in someone’s head into a finished book or e-document. And also how prepared they are to try someone new.

Anything you feel that you’d like to learn more about?

 I guess the simple answer is anything that will help me reach a wider readership. And I’m finding out more about that all the time through meeting people like you who are kind enough to take an interest and help me move forward.

Why did you choose to self-publish your work, and why did you choose to go through a self-publishing imprint of a traditional publisher? How did you come across them, and what have been the benefits of taking this route? How have they supported you?

In this genre and increasingly in others, publishers will not accept manuscripts directly from authors, only from literary agents. So to get ‘traditionally’ published an author needs to persuade an agent to represent them, and the agent must be engaged enough to feel they can persuade a publisher to take it forward.

The decision is based on risk – ‘will the book sell?’ – and not on quality, although obviously there is a quality threshold. I was advised from the beginning that I would have very little chance of getting an agent – who is someone looking for a career writer with whom to establish a long-term relationship which would need a lot of work at the start to raise the author’s profile. An old guy writing recreationally in retirement is not a good bet.

So self publishing was the only way forward if I wanted to fulfil my ambition. I chose Matador because they are the self-publishing arm of Troubador who are mainstream publishers, and also because they are recommended regularly by independent sources on self-publishing, e.g. the Writers’ and Artists’ Year Book. I have never regretted the decision and they have provided excellent support and advice throughout the production of the three books.

Why did you decide to tackle a controversial political subject in your book?

I’m afraid there’s a lot of me in the New Justice Regime and its provisions for dealing with people who set out to make other people’s lives a misery for no other reason than the fact that they are easy targets. I guess I’m into my Grumpy Old Man stage, but it goes further than that. I firmly believe that more should be more done to protect the victims and potential victims of street crime and less to understand and embrace the motives of the perpetrators. (This is where I could go on for several pages) Suffice to say, it could have been me making the speeches at the Old Bailey and the 3AF meeting.

Which characters do you particularly love in your books, and why?

That’s easy – my favourite characters are the two police colleagues, DCI David Gerrard and DS Jo Cottrell. They are close colleagues oozing respect for each other but also share a deep mutual affection. They are great vehicles for me to include all the light quips and comments that true friends will share and they serve to provide a lighter side to the darkness of the overall plot. I enjoy writing dialogue – which my editor thinks is my main strength – and have always thoroughly enjoyed putting together their exchanges.

What’s next for you and your books?

I promised both myself and Carol that I would retire again after completing the third book, which takes my original story to its conclusion. However, during the course of my writing I have had an idea for a fourth book – a sequel to the trilogy – which includes what I believe is a great twist and would provide a very satisfying conclusion to the whole saga. Whether I do this or not will depend on the reaction to my third book – which I, and my editor, believe is, by some margin, the best of all – and how I settle back to life without writing.

In so far as the three completed books are concerned, then I expect much of the same – introducing and promoting my work through book signings and through the numerous talks I have been invited to give to reading groups, creative writing groups and other organisations. Something else I enjoy very much.

We’ll see. But whatever happens, I have enjoyed the whole experience immensely and am quite proud of what I have achieved at a time in my life when I could have been excused for taking things easy!

Find out more about Michael Knaggs here.

Catalyst by Michael Knaggs

 

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Today’s book review focuses on Catalyst by Michael Knaggs, a book which I was compelled to buy after Michael, very proactively, approached me in the Waterstones branch in Hull. I liked that it didn’t feel as though I was on the receiving end of a ‘hard sell’, he just really wanted to discuss his book with customers, regardless of whether or not they would be likely to buy it. For this reason, I decided to go with something different to what I would normally read. And it paid off.

When three brothers, the leaders of a brutal gang, are lured to an isolated street and shot dead by a mysterious stranger, the subsequent euphoria on the estate where they lived is picked up by the national press.

 Tom Brown, an MP for the Opposition Party, whose constituency includes the estate, seizes the opportunity to exploit the story. Having built a reputation as a champion of law and order, he leads the crusade to implement a New Justice Regime with several supporters in tow, including local campaigner George Holland who embarks on a tour of the country to rally support for radical change.

When the killer is eventually caught and sentenced to life imprisonment, the gang sets out for revenge, targeting George for his outspoken condemnation of their activities and uncompromising proposals for their demise. They descend in large numbers on the quiet village where he lives, armed and ready to kill.

Meanwhile, Party Leader Andrew Donald is pursuing his own agenda…

 This intriguing novel, the first of the Hotel St Kilda books, contains themes of politics, crime and the military with family drama at its heart, creating a wide appeal for readers both young and old.

What’s great about Catalyst is that it strikes you from the very first paragraph. Kicking off immediately with tense and fast-paced action, the first scene sets the tone for the rest of the book. There certainly are no slow parts in the novel.

The second chapter, in which an incredibly shocking and controversial incident occurs, really is the catalyst for all that follows throughout the rest of the book. The whole narrative is a response to that first scene, and the action, intrigue and controversy never lets up. What particularly struck me about the book is how authentic it felt, even with quite an extreme and controversial subject matter.

As stated in the blurb, the book starts off with the ruthless gunning down of three notorious gang members who have been terrorising the village and local town for years. When you read this passage, a moral debate rages within your head: am I shocked and appalled at this seemingly cold-blooded murder, or on some level do I feel slightly satisfied that they got what was coming to them?

That is what the whole book really centres around: the question of taking justice into your own hands when the policing system seems powerless to intervene. And off the back of that, the Opposition party runs its own election campaign – to deal with gang members and violent offenders far, far more harshly and strictly than ever before…

Each character within this book felt really real. So much so, that I felt genuinely sad for the residents of Cullen Field. It’s a horrible thought that the kind of trauma and fear and intimidation that the residents of this book go through actually happens in real life. The subject matter of this book is incredibly topical.

Tom Brown, an MP within the Opposition Party, is smart, intelligent, good-looking and a radical thinker. That is one side of him that we are exposed to. The other side is an exposure of his insecurities, his marital problems, and his familial worries and joys. He often struggles to balance his work and his private life and they bleed into one another: something that I bet a lot of people can relate to. Tom Brown is likeable, but depending on your personal viewpoint, he is also lost in his own idealism and wishful thinking. It’s really interesting to try to make up your mind about him as reader, as you go through the book. His wife has many opposing views to his, and that heightens the tension and intrigue surrounding their family life.

Another fascinating character within the book is George Holland, a resident of Cullen Field, who helps support Tom’s vision and campaigns for radical change. I couldn’t help but love this character: he is slightly naive, a little out of his depth, but so convinced by the movement which promises to fight back against gang youths that he takes on the task of convincing the general public with growing enthusiasm. Even if you disagree fundamentally with the process that he is fighting for, you can’t help but love and sympathise with George.

The most intriguing, though, is Jad, the gunman who shoots the three gang members at the beginning of the book. As you go through the novel, his history and back story are revealed, and it’s so gripping. Equally as thought-provoking are his reasons behind his actions (why did he gun the gang down, when he hasn’t lived in Cullen Field in years? Why did he give a false name and identity even after being charged with murder?) and his relationship with Tom Brown and his family. There’s more than meets the eye there.

The writing style, for some reason, reminded me a little bit of John Grisham’s; not so much in style, although there are similarities, but more the effect of the narrative. Though fairly straight forward and devoid of unnecessary adjectives or poetic devices, it just sucks you in and compels you to keep on reading. It doesn’t beat about the bush: the author knows what his going on in his world and he tells you in no uncertain terms. But the style is engaging, and keeps the reader hooked throughout. I always found myself wanting to know more; wanting to know what was going to happen next.

A quite surprising outcome of reading this book was that it allowed me to understand the workings and mindsets of local politicians and their job roles. OK, so perhaps some aspects within the book might have been exaggerated or changed with artistic license, but being taken through the story from both private and political angles really helped me understand how events can shape political manifestos and campaigns. It also shows how gang violence affects every aspect of modern society. And the reaction to it in this book really is extreme. (But that’s what makes it all the more exciting to read.)

This book will most definitely appeal to all crime novels and thriller fans, which I think goes without saying. But I would urge people who would not normally read these genres (like myself) to give it a try, because it really is a great read.

I will be posting an interview with the author in a few days, but in the meantime, find out more about him here.

You can buy the book here on Amazon and on the Matador Books website.

Nothing Ever Happens in Wentbridge by Janet Watson

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I love how unique this book is; how completely honest and open Janet is about her past and her feelings. I think everyone who feels nostalgia for days gone by would very much enjoy this novel.

June 1981: That night. The night we made love in desperation. So much emotion, so much need. But now I’m sure of one thing. It’s rapid cell division rather than stress that has been messing with my biology.

Dallas is on the telly, Abba are number one, Starsky and Hutch are on her bedroom wall – and Janet is falling in love for the first time. In the warm glow of the local pub, with cider, Tetley’s and a close-knit gang of friends, life for Janet and Mark couldn’t be better. Then, one morning, her mother’s worst fears for Janet are realised and a decision is made that will change everything.

Nothing Ever Happens in Wentbridge is a true story from the emotional front line of a first love. This beautiful and vivid account of Mark and Janet, their lives, love and loss, shows how the mind has an uncanny ability to ignore what it doesn’t want to acknowledge. Until it has to.

We’ve all been there: finding ourselves at a critical point in our lives which makes us look back on our childhood, school and college life and wonder what would have been different if only a different decision had been made. We’ve all definitely had a first love before too.

In this true story, we travel back in time with Janet to look at how the past shaped her future and how her psyche managed to hide itself from her for all of these years. All of the stress and negative things that happen to her are tamped down and stifled, and Janet soldiers on through upset, heartbreak and trauma, completely unaware of the real impact it has on her. As we go through the chain of events that made up her childhood and adolescent years, it is fascinating to see how things that were seemingly small at the time actually had a huge impact on the adult. It opens up the reader’s eyes to the damage that can be caused if you don’t face and deal with those real problems in life – both psychological and physical.

The book is written from the point of view of Janet – teenaged Janet gives us her voice through a series of diary entries throughout the book. Adult Janet interjects these passages with a narrative of her own and it gives a real intriguing angle to the story. We can see throughout the book how each of these events that happen to young Janet – and all of the decisions she makes – affect Janet’s adult life and outlook on the world around her.

The novel takes us through the years of Janet’s relationship with her first true love, Mark; it highlights the often oppressive nature of her parents, and her struggle in finding the right career and finding somewhere that truly feels like home. The book is genuinely funny but unbelievably touching. It is relatable and very approachable. It explores the beauty and incredible complexity of human love, in all its forms and incarnations. It shows that love and life isn’t just black and white. It does all of this while taking us on one woman’s fascinating journey through early life.

Janet is originally from my home town of Hull and moved around England throughout her life. There are a few parallels in her life to mine: I’ve lived in some of the places that she’s lived in and had to make similar decisions regarding my career. It shows that a lot of people’s struggles and triumphs are universal and this book will speak to so many of you.

Ultimately what it showed me is that nothing is perfect, nothing is easy, but things can be fun along the way and when they aren’t, you can learn from it. This book was both fun and heartbreaking and really, really worth a read. It made me want to read more true life stories.

A big thank you to Janet Watson and Route Publishing for supplying the book. Much appreciated!

 

 

 

The Crooked Beat by Nick Quantrill

The Crooked Beat

When Joe Geraghty’s brother finds himself in financial trouble, it’s only natural that he turns to the Private Investigator for help. But when it relates to a missing consignment of smuggled cigarettes, it’s not so easily sorted. Drawn into the murky world of local and international criminals around the busy port of Hull, Geraghty knows the only way to save his brother is to take on the debt himself. As he attempts to find a way out of the situation, the secrets and conspiracies he uncovers are so deeply buried in the past, he knows he’s facing people willing to do whatever it takes to keep them that way.

Writing this book review will be a little bit harder than others as I sailed through it so quickly I forgot to stop to make notes or highlights! So this review will be from memory.

First off, I should say I was thrilled to have the opportunity to read a book set in my home town of Hull (if you hadn’t guessed from many of my other posts that that’s where I’m from!) It’s also a little bit surreal. I’m used to having to picture and build locations in my own head from my imagination, but in this case I just had to picture places that I have known my entire life. Perhaps that’s part of what made it such an easy read (other than its readability, of course!)

What is interesting is that, conversely, it also showed me a side of Hull that I could never have imagined by myself: a world of private investigators and violent gangsters. It shone a light on how easy it can be for people to be unaware of the dangers that could be surrounding them.

The beauty of this book is that even though there is plenty of gangster-style action, which allows the book to keep a good pace and keep the reader gripped, interwined with this is real emotion, real love and loyalty especially between family members, and real depth. It is not violence or grittiness for the sake of it. Nick Quantrill makes the story real and convincing by making us really feel for his characters – and that includes both hating them or loving them. And another intriguing thing about the whole story is that no character is straight-up morally black or white. Good people make mistakes, bad people redeem themselves and some characters hide their true colours under masks that fool other people. I won’t give away which characters are which, as part of the magic of the book is discovering this as you read through.

I saw a hell of a lot of myself in Joe Geraghty, which is why I think I’ve grown to love him as a character. He has so much love and loyalty for his family, that he would literally sacrifice anything for them. Nothing is too much if it means he can protect them. He also has a very sharp mind, which makes the mystery and detective work all the more gripping. He isn’t infallible, however, and that is made clear too, which only makes him more human.

I really, really enjoyed this book. Nick Quantrill is big on the literature scene for a reason. His work is getting noticed. His books are brilliant to read. You would not regret giving this one a read, especially if you’re a crime fiction fan. I fully recommend it!

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…

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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: http://www.nickquantrill.co.uk/

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

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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.

[Guest Book Review] The Secret Baby Room by DD Johnson

Today Words Are My Craft is lucky enough to host a guest book review from the immensely talented Brian Lavery, journalist and published author of The Headscarf Revolutionaries. Here he discusses DD Johnston’s The Secret Baby Room, published by Hull and London-based publisher Barbican Press. Just another great reason to keep trying out those little gems published by independent presses!

secret baby room

The Secret Baby Room by DD Johnston (Barbican Press, 2015)

Kindle edition

As a child I used to try to make a good book last forever. I still remember the dismay when as an eight-year-old I had to accept that Treasure Island had come to an end. Now, from time to time, that feeling, like a literary madeleine moment, returns.

Well, it came back with DD Johnston’s The Secret Baby Room (Barbican Press 2015).

Johnston constantly surprises with this novel. In what seems like a slow start, you find yourself pulled into what you think is going to be a strong psychological thriller. And you are, because it is – but soon it becomes so much more.

You are pulled further in by multi-layered characters, an increasingly pacey plot, running alongside, detailed, but not detracting, back stories.

The story opens with Claire Wilson, a young woman who has recently miscarried, who has moved into her new home in Manchester. Following her tragedy, Clare, a southerner, quit her job and moved with her Mancunian husband Dan, whose new job is in his native city. Their new shiny housing estate is in the shadow of an empty, ugly, due-for-demolition tower block.

Claire was in the spare room of her new home, unpacking a box when she glances up and sees that high in the abandoned tower block that a woman is bottle-feeding a baby.

As the book’s blurb asks, ‘Why would anyone take a baby into a derelict tower block? And why is her next-door neighbour so determined to delay the block’s demolition? In a Manchester neighbourhood plagued by unexplained tragedies, Claire’s only allies are an eccentric white witch, a wild-child party girl, and a husband with too many secrets.

In ten days’ time, the tower block will be reduced to rubble and dust. Do you look the other way or do you dare to push open the door?’

Claire’s determination to get to the root of the mystery at first has the reader on board, then you begin to wonder if it is all in her mind. The series of weird events, evil-looking graffiti, black magic altars in a derelict building, a series of miscarriages in the shadow of a phone mast, are not all what they first seem.

The same can be said of the characters. Johnston introduces with broad strokes. When Claire’s wacky hippy-dippy neighbour, Morgana Cox, the rosehip tea-drinking, pentangle-wearing, Wiccan priestess and mother to Mooncloud and Unity, enters the story it is almost high comedy.

As the story unfolds, however, there are surprising and shocking revelations in turn. This is the case with all the characters. Nobody and nothing is what it seemed at first. Johnston keeps the reader guessing. The broad strokes become smart, fine, revelatory details that fuel a classy thriller.

When the true character of a graffiti artist who has been daubing the estate with a series of sick tags is revealed, again Johnston shows his capacity for surprise and versatile revelation.

Johnston deftly weaves moments of comedy into his thriller narrative. In a book that could have easily fallen into schlock-horror, this writer manages to keep the reader on the back foot, constantly surprising, both in narrative and character development.

This is Johnston’s third novel, the others (The Deconstruction of Professor Thrub, (Barbican Press, 2013) and Peace, Love and Petrol Bombs (AK Press, 2011), were obvious in their political force) whereas The Secret Baby Room’s political and cultural themes are woven well into a driving narrative like dye in cloth.

The political Johnston in this fine novel, is an examiner, a questioner, rather than a polemicist who would detract. The result is a mix of thriller, satire, and cultural examination, seamlessly contained in a thumping good story with a great denouement.

Most importantly, I quite simply enjoyed The Secret Baby Room and was dismayed it ended so soon for me. I can pay it no better compliment. The eight-year-old in my soul wanted the drama to go on.

As a reader I was given a treat.

As a writer I was given a skills demonstration.

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

Brian Lavery. Photo credit: Martin J Goodman of Barbican Press.

See more from Brian at http://www.brianwlavery.com/ and follow him on Twitter @brianlavery59

The Headscarf Revolutionaries by Brian Lavery

In this review I’ll be discussing Brian Lavery‘s The Headscarf Revolutionaries and also the book launch that took place on the 26th May at the Maritime Museum in Hull – in fact, my very first attendance at a book launch!

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I would just like to take the opportunity to thank Brian for sending me a review copy of the book – I’m extremely grateful and will take good care of this signed copy!

In the harsh arctic seas of 1968, three trawlers from Hull’s fleet sank in just three weeks. 58 men died. Lillian Bilocca put down her filleting knife, wrote a petition, and stormed into action. With her army of fishwives she took her battle to the docks and led a raid on Parliament. They changed the shipping laws.

Lillian Bilocca became an international celebrity. The lone survivor of the tragedies made headlines too. In a tight fishing community, it’s dangerous to stand out.

What I should first point out is that, while the fishing industry has been slowly dying out in Hull in recent years, the culture and camaraderie of those times are not lost. My granddad on both sides worked in the fishing industry. So did my parents. I come from a thoroughly working-class background right up until today’s generation and while mine is the first generation in my family to not be involved in the fishing industry, it’s still been very much a part of my life growing up. This isn’t just Hull’s history, it’s mine and my family’s. And that’s why I was so pleased when Brian sent me this book.

In fact, I took this home with me to Hull one weekend and my mother, who is by no means a regular reader, took the book and wouldn’t let of it for a week. I had to drive back home without it. She read it extremely quickly, and even before I’d gotten my eyes on it I knew it was accurate due to her commenting every now and then, “Yep, I remember that. Yeah, your granddad was part of that…” etc.

VIP at the book launch - not too shabby!

VIP at the book launch – not too shabby!

The book tells the story of the triple trawler disaster, in which three trawlers (the St. Romanus, The Kingston Peridot, and The Ross Cleveland) sank between January and February 1968, killing all but one man on board. It also tells the story of the safety campaign that followed, spearheaded by Lillian Bilocca, in which she and a number of other trawlers’ wives fought, against much hatred and death threats, for better working conditions for men at sea.

His words and descriptions are factual and yet artistic, which makes it an enjoyable read for me, primarily a reader of fiction. This book is described as “literary non-fiction” by the author himself and that couldn’t be a more accurate description, as the writing is matter-of-fact and yet poetic at the same time:

Men are rightly fearful when the ship climbs and drops, but that becomes terror if she moves from side to side. Huge waves must be faced head on. Taken sideways, they can send a ship to the bottom of the sea in seconds…When it goes wrong no one has time to act. Only luck can save her. Survival is by accident…If you are on deck, you are gone. Below deck, in a blink, the ceiling is now where one of the walls once was. The floor goes from you as you are thrown.The freezing sea is through the portholes. In the remaining minutes you drown or freeze to death. Your lungs will collapse in the cold before you get the chance to drown. If you get to a life raft a further miracle needs you to be far from the ship as she sinks or she will take you and your raft with her.

Despite the fact that the author Brian Lavery, who was a classmate of mine at Hull University (you can learn more about him in my interview with him here) is originally from Glasgow, his understanding and love for Hull shines through the pages. Even in the early pages of this book in which he is really just setting the scene, he manages to capture that kind of close community that Hull had on its streets years ago, when everybody knew everyone and looked out for one another.

It turned out Robert’s uncle Skipper Philip Gay of the Ross Cleveland had given the deck boy his old gear. Robert was Skipper Gay’s sister’s lad and he had been asked by the mother to “talk to the boy” – a euphemism for “talk him out of it.” Philip Gay paid lip service to this. He knew he would never be able to talk the boy out of his chosen adventure….

Jim also knew the cook Brian Wilson’s missus had just had a baby girl and he noticed too that Tommy Williams’ boys, John and Melvin, just twenty-one and twenty-two respectively, were aboard. Tommy was a pal of Jim’s dad, Fred.

Brian did a fantastic job of stirring emotions and building up the reader’s loyalty to Lily Bilocca, Mary Denness, Yvonne Blenkinsop and Christine Jensen. What he also did was enable the reader to understand that even though the abuse, death threats, and resistance that these women faced were terrible, the circumstances of the time meant that reactions such as these were inevitable. Many trawlermen did not want women and wives in the public eye, did not want them interfering with their jobs. Many other wives also believed the women to be trouble-makers. Brian could have painted a black-and-white picture in which he outlined the abuse and portayed the women as heroes and the public as quite simply bad, unreasonable people. But his book goes into much more depth than that, and gives a rich cultural and historical background which explains that, whilst horrible and wrong, the opposition was born from tradition, rigid rules, superstition and fear. Brian allows us therefore not only to understand and get to know these brave, influential women, but also to understand society at that time.

Brian also gives the reader an insight into the personal lives of these men and women; he did not rely solely on media and newspaper coverage – his research was extensive. You really feel like you know the characters as people, rather than figureheads. You get to know their families, their home lives, their fears and their struggles. It brings Hull’s history back to life.

‘Hiya, Mam. I’ve put the kettle on – and I got your favourites – custard creams.’

‘Oh, that sounds grand, Virginia.’

‘How did it go in London?’

‘I’ll tell you all about it later. Go and put the kettle on, pet. It was great though. We have done it, love. Them politicians said we’d get all we asked for. As we left that fella Peart said to me, “We’ll do all we can, love.” I told him to talk straight and he did. He called me love, so he’s all right in my book.’

‘That’s fine, Mam.’

The narrative and story-telling in this book is incredibly authentic and educational. Brian captures the speech and dialect of the people of Hull in 1968 perfectly. He also paints a picture of Hull in the 60’s that is so vivid, it makes the reader feel like they are there. His characterisation of society at that time is spot on, too. He captures the resilience of both women and men who lived through current hard times:

When Chrissie put her phone down in her little terraced house in Hessle Road’s Flinton Grove, she had to smile. Her trawlerman husband did not even let her go to the cinema unless he was ashore. She would be in big trouble when he got back from sea. Like a lot of the women, she feared the wrath of an angry husband, chastising her for “dabbling in men’s business”, more than she feared any fight with the bosses. But she was determined.

Then he got angry and felt he was letting down his wife and baby by dying. He would not allow that to happen…Just keep going, Harry. Just keep going.

The book taught me so much about Hull’s history that I personally knew nothing about. It’s a shame that before this book and before the press coverage, many people like me have no idea about the tragic and triumphant history of their own city and their own roots. Each city and community needs a Brian to help highlight and remind them of its past.

The Book Launch

Brian signing copies of the book.

Brian signing copies of the book.

On the 26th May, I attended the book launch for The Headscarf Revolutionaries at the Hull Maritime Museum. I was incredibly proud of Brian. As cheesy as this sounds, we all recognised Brian as someone who was incredibly talented and likely to forge yet another successful career (before university he enjoyed a successful career as a newspaper journalist.)

The book launch was attended by the Lord Mayor Mary Glew (as pictured below) and featured singers singing fishing ballads, press coverage, and a unveiling of plaques in honour of the four women who campaigned on behalf of the trawlers. There was a Q&A with the publisher Martin Goodman of Barbican Press (a publisher which I interned for last year) and a discussion with the audience. It was a packed-out event and a real triumph for Brian, Barbican Press, for the trawlers’ wives and Hull, City of Culture.

During the Q&A, Brian told Martin that the story had been “overlooked for far too long”. He stressed that he needed to keep in mind the feelings of those involved in the story and who are still alive today. He was considerate of others before beginning this project (which, I should point out, was his PhD thesis.) However, as he pointed out, “The story HAD to be told.” And he’s told it extremely well.

Brian Lavery with Lord Mayor of Hull Mary Glew.

Brian Lavery with Lord Mayor of Hull Mary Glew.

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ITV news attended the big event.

ITV news attended the big event.

It’s worth noting that at the book launch, Mary Denness, one of the women who campaigned along with Big Lil,, announced this book to be “the most authentic account of what happened in 1968 that I’ve ever read, and I would recommend it to anyone.”

I second that, Mary.

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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