I am so excited to be at Newcastle Noir. I’ve never been before and this year the programme is exceptional. The North East’s own crime writing festival has moved venues this year and is being held in the very central City Library. The facilities and the access are really good and it has the benefit of sending a signal of being a Festival that anyone can attend.
The fact that a number of people dropped in today to attend a session is a hopeful sign that this signal is being heard both loudly and clearly.
I got to Newcastle just after 2pm which meant that I had already missed two cracking sessions, but I was still able to attend a further 4 today.
First off was New Kid in Town, with Adam Peacock, Christoffer Petersen, GB Abson and Alison Belsham. These four relatively new authors discussed their writing journeys.
Alison Belsham initially started writing with the ambition of becoming a screenwriter-and in 2000 was commended for her visual storytelling in the Orange Prize for Screenwriting. In 2001 she was shortlisted in a BBC Drama Writer competition. Life and children intervened but, switching to fiction, in 2009 her novel Domino was selected for the prestigious Adventures in Fiction mentoring scheme.
In 2016 she pitched her first crime novel, The Tattoo Thief, at the Pitch Perfect event at the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival and was judged the winner. The Tattoo Thief was bought by Trapeze books and published in May, 2018.
Adam Peacock grew up in South Shields before leaving to study a degree in music and technology at the University of Hull. Following his return to his hometown, Adam spent seven years as a teacher in a local college. The pent up anger he felt as a teacher, he says, in no way contributed to his willingness to kill people in his books. Having always been an avid reader, Adam took up writing after being encouraged to do so by his PGCE tutor. He went on to produce a number of short stories, winning the Writers’ Forum Magazine competition on two occasions, before trying his hand at a novel. That one didn’t go anywhere, but he got it out of his system.
A crime fiction fan, Adam eventually set about writing a crime novel set in the North East and eventually the idea forAdam’s debut novel, Open Grave,was born. He grew up in South Shields and wanted to write a novel set in and around the area. He kept seeing places in South Shields that would be great for burying a body, he says.
Now, as well as writing, he is a trade union official and his members include prison lecturers, which is helpful when he wants to get an informed view on breaking out of a prison.
Adam’s book was picked up by Bloodhound Books and was published last September.
Christoffer Petersen lives in southern Denmark. In 2006 he and his wife moved to Greenland and spent seven years learning about what he says is one of the most exciting countries and cultures in the world. There, he says, weather and terrain means everything. Because of the variability of the weather, the Greenlanders are very spontaneous, just reacting to their environment as it changes.
While in Greenland, Christoffer started writing crime stories and thrillers set in Greenland and the Arctic. He graduated from Falmouth University with a Master of Arts in Professional Writing, adopted his wife’s surname, got picked up by an agent after self publishing and has not looked back since.
G.D. (Garry David) Abson was born in County Durham, England, and brought up on army bases in Germany and Singapore before returning to the UK. He developed a lifelong obsession with Russia after studying the revolution at school and Russian politics at university as the Soviet Union collapsed.
Shortlisted for the C.W.A. Debut Dagger, his first novel, Motherland was a
Times/ Sunday Times Crime Club Star Pick.
In his second novel, Black Wolf, Captain Natalya Ivanova’s investigation links the death of a young woman on the outskirts of St Petersburg to the Decembrists, an anti-Putin dissident group whose acts of civil disobedience have caught the eye of the authorities. Natalya soon realises she is not the only one interested in the case, as government security services wade in and shut down her investigation almost before it has begun.
So where are the good guys?
Gary Abson’s detective, Senior Investigator Natalya Ivanova, is trying to find her way in the dark, corrupting, seductive, and chaotic country that is Putin’s Russia. She is straight as a die and can’t abide corruption. Her husband is pragmatic, having learnt to live with the corruption as a part of daily life. Her stepson is trying to avoid corruption while they are bribing those who can help to get him out of being conscripted. Natalya is helped enormously by expert senior criminologist, Leo Primakov, a man who sees the world in black and white. Her one true ally Primakov has to buy equipment out of his own pocket and rely on American TV shows to help him keep up to date with his science.
Christoffer Pedersen’s quiet, chain smoking Constable David Maratse is invalided off the force, and moves to a small settlement to live the life of a subsistence hunter and fisherman. But when his long line hooks the body of a politician’s daughter, he finds himself both prime suspect and lead investigator in Greenland’s most sensational murder case. Maratse works with Police Sergeant Petra Jensen in a trilogy that not only investigates crime but also explores themes of identity.
Adam Peacock’s protagonist, Jack Lambert, has just come out as gay
with an unsurprising negative impact on his relationship with his wife and daughter. He’s in his mid-30’s, with a chip on his shoulder and he also has a complicated relationship with Pathologist Rosie Lynnes, who is struggling to understand his new sexuality status. Lambert ran with a hard gang when he was younger and now heads up his police team. A troubled D.I. he doesn’t it seems, tick too many of anyone’s boxes.
Alison Belsham’s newly-promoted DI Francis Sullivan is something of a surprise.
Francis Sullivan is not your average D.I. Intelligent and thoughtful, he is young in both years, at 29, and in experience. He’s just been promoted above another experienced detective, which means he already has a lot to prove and his boss isn’t exactly thrilled to have a rookie in charge either.
Sullivan knows he lacks experience, but he has family he needs to look after and he needs the promotion. Not much of a drinker, it is the church he turns to when he needs to talk things through.
So besuited Francis isn’t exactly in his element when, in the midst of a Brighton Tattoo convention, it becomes clear that there is a killer about who is selecting victims for their body art. When he teams up with tattoo artist, divorcee Marni Mullins, to track down a sadistic killer, this pairing discover an unexpected chemistry.
PANEL 2 Friday 3 May 2019 The Romanian Connection. BalkanNoir to BucharestNoir.
Moderator: Quentin Bates.
I find that all crime festivals are brilliant events to attend and I love meeting new authors and hearing about their books. Newcastle Noir this year had lots of especially good panels and two that I think will be unrivalled anywhere else this year.
The first of these was from Team Romania. Anamaria Ionescu was born in 1976 and has lived in Bucharest all her life. She qualified as lawyer but for the last 20 years has been a producer with the Romanian Broadcasting Company. Her debut publication was a book of short stories in 2009, followed by a second short story collection and three novels. Her novel based on the 1989 fall of the Communist regime The Christmas That Never Came was one of Tritonic Publishing’s best sellers in 2017. She has also contributed to five collections of short stories including Bucharest Noir (Tritonic 2017) and Gastro Noir (Tritonic 2018).
Teodora Matei was born in 1971 and lives in the city of Ploiesti in Prahova county. She writes in a range of genres from sci-fi and fantasy to mystery, thriller and romance. She has contributed to nine literary collections. Her work includes novels co-written with Lucian Dragos Bogdan; two volumes of short stories and 4 novels of her own. Her fantasy novel, Master of the Castle is one of Tritonic Publishing’s best sellers.
Bogdan Hribb was born in 1966 in Bucharest. After graduating as a civil engineer he was variously a photographer, journalist, advertising agency director and book editor. He has a PhD in photojournalism is currently a lecturer at the National University of Political Studies and Public Administration. He is the author of the Stelian Munteanu series of which Kill the General, the fourth in the series, is the first to be translated into English. The Greek Connection is the first in the series, now also translated into English.
In Zodiac four murders are committed in four different locations. Each body has strange markings. The only thing that connects them is that they are all from the same small spa town, Voineasa. Two very different investigators team up to investigate. Trained killer, Sergiu Manta and Police Inspector Marius create a tense interplay as they edge their way to the truth.
Living Candles conveys the murkier side of living in urban Romania. This is a place where everyone knows the other’s business; where pensioners gossip outside the entrances to blocks of flats so close together you acn see the atmosphere between them and where the machismo is so thick, you could cut it.
Kill The General features Stelian Munteanu. Lover, killer, Bucharest boy, Stelian is a hero of our times. A book editor with a sideline in international police work, is in a position where he has to kill the General whose book he has just published. Will he pull the trigger? Described as an exciting and suspenseful thriller, this is a ‘roller coaster ride through some of the transitions which have taken place over the last decades in Romanian history’.
Each author talked about their books and their protagonists. Stelian Munteanu was a sniper during his military service, now he is both a journalist and a maverick. He has friends amongst the Secret Service and the spy community so he can often pick up on snippets of useful information. The first of Bogdan’s books is a police procedural, then a historical thriller akin to a Romanian Da Vinci Code. The third is a military thriller based around a foreign vessel with a Romanian crew and the 4th is Kill the General. The 5th is about the absurdity of news.
Anamaria’s protagonist is a true to life character with a hint of James Bond. A cold blooded murderer, but sensitive. His morals tend to get in the way of doing his job efficiently anbd part of his struggle is trying to cope with that dilemma.
Teodora’s protagonist is Antonio. Fat, balding, he is an average man doing an average job. He has a boring wife and 2 naughty children, and he is only a little bit unfaithful.His lack of fidelity tends to be more in the thinking than the doing.
What makes Balkan noir special, Quentin asked? The authors felt that it was everything they had been through from Communism and a dictatorship through to the difficult transition. Romanians are survivors who have learned to appreciate good food, and a beautiful environment, while still struggling with issues such as corruption and smuggling.
We learned that Romanian crime fiction struggles in its own country because readers seem to prefer translated fiction from big names outside the country and so no big name has as yet broken through. But next year there will be a volume of Bucharest Noir – the creme de la creme translated into English and it is hoped that will gain some traction.
All in all a fascinating panel, and something very special from Newcastle Noir. I bought one of each of these author’s books and can’t wait to get started.
Here Come The Girls
Moderator: Dr Claire Nally
Claire Nally asked each of the panellists to say something about their journey as a writer.
Alex Sokoloff was a theatre child, which is where she first learnt the art of storytelling. She started writing for the theatre and then went to LA where she was a screenwriter for 10 years, until, as she says, she snapped and wrote a thriller. She is currently adapting her (absolutely terrific) Huntress series for TV.
Lucy Foley came to writing after having been a reader for many years. Previously an editor for a publishing house, she credits that experience with making publishing less intimidating for her and that gave her the courage to write her own book. One thing she has learnt, though, is that you should never try to edit your own book.
Madeleine Black never intended to be a writer. Her book came out of her work with The Forgiveness Project, following her experience of being gang raped as a young woman. She went into the Forgiveness Project to share her story and learn to get past her experience. After that, they suggested that she share her story more widely so that others could learn from it and as she says, she practically ‘vomited’ the book. Since then she has gone on to be a motivational speaker and counsellor.
Judith O’Reilly was a journalist for over 20 years, some of it as part of the Parliamentary Lobby. She set up a blog that went viral leading to her first non-fiction book, a bestseller called Wife in the North that recounts her attempt to move her family and her life from cosmopolitan London to rural Northumberland. That was followed by A Year f Doing Good, in which she setout to see if doing one good deed every day for a year could make you a better person. (Her verdict: it didn’t).
Then she wrote and self published her first thriller – Killing State, which has now been picked up by Head of Zeus. Her second thriller is due out early next year.
The panellists discussed the women in their books. Madeleine wrote her book so that she could say to women that it is possible to get past what has happened to them; to refuse to be a victim. Judith’s women refuse to be put in a corner; they have their own dynamic and refuse to know their place.
All thought their books would easily pass the Bechdel Test –
a way of evaluating whether or not a film or other work of fiction portrays women in a way that is sexist or characterized by gender stereotyping. To pass the Bechdel test a work must feature at least two women, these women must talk to each other, and their conversation must concern something other than a man.
Lucy’s book, The Hunting Party, set in the Highlands in a remote Hunting Lodge, is driven by female friendships and her fictional female characters are able to both conform to their roles and at the same time slightly subvert them.
Alexandra just got so angry that the numerous serial killer books were really about the serial rapes of women who were then subsequently murdered. The brutalisation and exploitation of violence against women is something she abhors. Her series is about a serial killer who is a woman and it is easy to understand why and how she chooses those that she kills.
Are these women writers feminists? Judith says its hard to be otherwise, everything is political. Alex reckons that women should not have to define themselves that way. Lucy went to an all girls school, where, she says, she was taught that everything was possible. It was only after she left that everything started to go wrong.
Alex talked a bit about the reasons women kill, pointing to how few female serial killers there are. They tend to be either the ‘Angel of Death’ type or in pairings with a man where they are the more submissive partner. Yet women have so many more reasons to want to kill.
Madeleine talked about the power of sharing stories and shattering the shame that women and men can feel; to give a voice to the voiceless. A lively discussion ensued about the exploitation of violence in commercial crime fiction, with most agreeing that if its there for commercial exploitative reasons that is to be condemned, but that for explanation and background it can be justified. But you can always tell the difference, the writers agreed.
What’s next for each of these writers? Madeleine Black is a Unicef Ambassador and has just come back from South Africa where she gave a talk and met women’s groups and next up she will be participating as a speaker in the Glasgow Ted Talks.
Lucy Foley’s next book will revolve around a wedding and possibly a murder…
Judith O’Reilly’s next thriller will continue the adventures of Michael North, assassin and spy-for-hire – or as she refers to him, the new British, modern Bond.
As for Alexandra Sokoloff, she was inspired by a recent visit to Iceland and her next book will be Icelandic set with witches…
The Lindisfarne Prize
We took a short break from panel discussions to attend the prize giving for The Lindisfarne Prize.
The Lindisfarne Prize for Debut Crime Fiction is a literary prize which recognises outstanding writing in the genre of crime or thriller fiction, sponsored by the author L J Ross and in association with the Newcastle Noir Festival. It is open to all new writers who are from, or whose work celebrates, the North-East and who have not previously had their work published in any form. Entrants must submit a short story of no more than ten thousand words or the first two chapters and a synopsis of their work in progress, to be considered.
Four writers were shortlisted; Keith Dickinson, Frank Hutton, Cressida Downing and Wes T. Mead.
The winner, who receives a prize of £2500 to support the completion of their work, as well as free editorial and mentoring services from Cheshire Cat Books and funding towards a year’s membership of both the Society of Authors (SoA) and the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) was announced by L.J.Ross as Cressida Downing, who received her award from the Lord Mayor of Newcastle.
Friday Night Showcase: White Queen, Yrsa Sigurdardottir
Next up was the fabulous Queen of Icelandic Noir, Yrsa Sigurdardottir in conversation with Jacky Collins, the inimitable Dr. Noir.
Yrsa was writing plot driven children’s stories because she was unimpressed by what was on offer in Iceland for her own children, when she was approached by 2 Icelandic publishers and asked to try writing a crime novel. So she wrote the first three chapters (In English) and that book was sold to first 13, then later 35 countries. She knows when she starts if she is going to be writing a series, but for Yrsa it is important to stop when she starts to get bored, so around 6 in a series is her maximum.
She also loves to write stand-alones because then, as she says, all the characters are disposable. She has, she admits, found some inventive ways to dispatch people off their mortal coil and reckons the vacuum cleaner was her favourite! Very few people in Iceland are killed by guns, since shooting is something done by hunters, so many in Yrsa’s books are stabbed, hanged or drowned.
When writing the first in her new Children’s House series, she was very angry about a case that had been in the Icelandic papers involving a child and so her first in that series is perhaps a little more violent than it might otherwise have been.
She explained that she always thought she would be a doctor, but one summer, while she was away working at sea, her parents decided she would not suit that life and instead signed her up to take an engineering course.
Listening to Yrsa talk about her writing method, it is clear that she is immensely well organised and methodical. Her plot lines are always clear in her head before she starts writing and as I have reported before, she submits her book on a chapter by chapter basis.
Jacky asked Yrsa about the process of turning her book, I Remember You into a film. Yrsa was very clear that she did not want to be involved in the adaptation. They are, she says, two very different things. The book is the child and the author the parent. The film is the grandchild and it is not proper for the parent to be involved in the conception of the grandchild. The good news though is that the same company is now planning to make The Undesired.
Yrsa also spoke about her pleasure in being involved with Ragnar Jonasson in creating a debut Icelandic novelists prize, of attending that dinner with Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and of her hope that soon the work of Oskar Gudmundsson (also at Newcastle Noir this year) would be available to a wider public. Oskar Guðmundsson’s ‘Hilma’—with its strong
female characterization and mind-of-the-murderer
insights—took Iceland by storm when it was published and his follow up Blood Angel has also been very successful there.
Then it was time to relax and enjoy the delights of Newcastle and the Newcastle Noir authors cabaret. But as you know, what happens in cabaret, stays in cabaret, so I’ll be back with Saturday and Sunday’s highlights soon.