Tuesday, 10 December 2013

'Ladies and gentlemen. Mhairi McFarlane!'

‘Nottingham’s Mhairi McFarlane possesses the frankness of Sarah Millican and the acerbic wit of Tina Fey.’

A year after her debut novel became Harper Collins’ biggest ever selling ebook, Mhairi McFarlane is back on the best-seller lists with Here's Looking At You. Her covers scream ‘chick-lit’ but McFarlane’s books could also appear in the humour section as she’s up there with the best of today’s comedy writers.
Here’s Looking At You and the award-winning You Had Me At Hello are both priced at 99p* in ebook format. 
*prices accurate on 10/12/13

Thursday, 5 December 2013

It’s a Crime! – the verdict is in.

To celebrate the launch of three new books, Nottingham Writers' Studio, Five Leaves Publishing and Weathervane Press hosted a night of crime at Antenna.

Compèring the evening’s performances was Pippa Hennessy, Nottingham Writers’ Studio’s Development Director. The books being launched were:

The NWS Crime Sampler ( the pilot edition of the NWS Journal ), a collection of pieces showcasing the talents of seven members of the writers’ studio.

CRIME (Five Leavesannual compendium), a volume of themed essays exploring  varying aspects of crime.

The Deed Room by Michael RD Smith (Weathervane Press), an intelligent legal thriller with a love story.

First up was Lisa Shipman, reading her short story Sweets For My Sweet, a tale of redemption. She seemed undaunted, giving a confident performance that belied her status as an emerging writer. Her opening line was “Sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to.” For Lisa Shipman, public speaking isn’t one of those things.

Rod Madocks read from his essay The Love Killers - a title that dons its cap to the confessional poet Anne Sexton. We saw a real-life family photo, of smiling Christopher Foster with his smiling wife and smiling daughter, hours before he murdered them. At the time the image was taken Foster had already decided to kill them. Madocks often uses pictures to compliment his writing but never as powerfully as this. With a chill in the air the author offered his thoughts on Dyadic Death (murder followed by suicide) to a captivated crowd.

Historical novelist Ann Featherstone gave us a glance at the life of Dando the Oyster-Eater. It turns out that oysters were the fast-food of the early 19th century and Dando, a man of ready hunger and sharp wit, found infamy after a series of bilking sprees.

The next book to launch was Michael RD Smith’s debut novel The Deed Room, crime fiction with a strong Nottingham setting. Smith read an excerpt which he wisely ended with a character in danger and the audience in suspense.

Political cartoonist John Stuart Clark appeared ill at ease as he looked down at the microphone. He was about to read from Scrappin’ wi’ Scouse, a story about his years as a ‘tatter’ working with ’Scouse’, real name William Holloway, a scrounger who puts the scrap in scrap metal. The reason for Clark’s apprehension was that he knew what was coming, that the end of the story concerned the death of his friend. Building up to this touching climax was a humourous account of the pair’s roguish antics, evoking memories of Nottingham in the 70s and 80s. I loved it.

Following such raw emotion was not going to be easy and that difficult task befell Andrew Kells. He coped admirably, finding his character’s voice from the off he attacked the role of young Jason - ‘I didn’t see nothing’ - with passion and energy.

“Ey up,” said Michael Eaton on taking the stand. It’s always a huge pleasure to hear from Eaton and he was on top form. After belly-laughing at his Jackie Pownall ad-lib, I listened in awe to his account of the final moments in the life of Charlie Peace, before he ended the night with a mention of Ray Gosling. It was a nice touch from a class act.

My congratulations go to Pippa Hennessy and all involved. It was a fine event that deserved a larger audience.

Copies of CRIME and The Deed Room are both available from the Five Leaves Bookshop at £9.99 and £7.99 respectively.
The NWS Crime Sampler can be read for free HERE

Reviews of all three books with appear on this blog next year.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Get to know Central Library

For new members and anyone who fancies a good nosey round, there’s the Get to know…Nottingham Central Library Tour on December 6th

Find out all there is to know about the library including information on how to find what you need and the special collections available.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Short stories for the longest night


It's a Crime! Dec 4th, Antenna

Nottingham Writers' Studio, Five Leaves Publications and Weathervane Press present an evening of criminally good live literature.
On Wednesday 4th December - 7pm - at Antenna.
Michael Eaton on Charlie Peace
Ann Featherstone on Dando the Oyster-Eater
Michael RD Smith reading from his new novel The Deed Room
John Stuart Clark about being a Nottingham scrappie
Rod Madocks on couples who kill
plus short stories from Andrew Kells and Lisa Shipman

Bookstall provided by Five Leaves Bookshop

All welcome. £3 entry. Bar available.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Tom Harper - top crime-fic author visits Notts

Lowdham Festivals and Southwell Library present Tom Harper and Anthony Riches.

Thursday 28th November
Historical fiction authors Anthony Riches & Tom Harper discuss their new novels...
Anthony Riches: The Eagle’s Vengeance

The barbarian leader Calgus defies both his barbarian captors and Britannia's legions – and Marcus Aquila – once more in the sixth thrilling novel in the Empire sequence, praised by fellow-authors Conn Iggulden, Ben Kane and Manda Scott.

Tom Harper: The Orpheus Descent

Once Plato was a questing young man with a secret. He left behind a key, a tiny, burnished, golden tablet thrown away into a swamp that he never expected anyone to find. 2500 years later a young archaeologist stumbles on the greatest secret history the world has ever known…

Tickets: £6 full, £5 concessions, £4 Festival Friends

Taking place at 7.30pm at Southwell Library
The Bramley Centre
King St
NG25 0EH 0
01636 812148

Tickets from Southwell Library or The Bookcase, 50 Main Street, Lowdham, Notts NG14 7BE

   Call our Box Office: 0115 966 3219

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Notts Libraries, in crisis?


Notts County Council, facing budget cuts, is standing firm in its commitment to keep open all sixty of its libraries. There had been fears that the smaller, so called ‘Tier Three’ libraries, might be for the chop.

Phew, that’s good news then.

On that face of it, yes, but the authority is hoping to make huge saving with an innovative and controversial plan to preserve the smaller libraries through a community partnership approach.


They want to give libraries over to local communities, letting them take on the running. A one-off investment would be made, out of the library capital refurbishment programme. It would then be up to these groups to make it work.

Sounds like one of them a free schools. Here’s the budget, get on with it. Only, I bet they want the staff to work for free. Replace paid librarians with volunteers. Dave’s ‘big society’ again.

Here’s what John Knight, committee chairman for culture at the council, has to say: “We are having to look for increasingly creative and innovative ways to run our services. We are keen to work with communities to help provide the library services they want.”

Hmm. Might libraries be hijacked by those community groups with suspect motives, religious groups and the like?

It’s all about consultation right now, then restructure. They are approaching local groups to see who might want to take over. The best local solution will be awarded the one-off funding.

Free labour. So they think all them fogies that frequent the library will be lining up to help owt. But will they want to take jobs from the librarians they’ve become pally with. They might get a few offers, plus the odd student. I suppose they also see it as a way the unemployed folks can gain some work experience. Mind you, with all this ilk of volunteer you get a high turnaround of staff. Say goodbye to them ‘getting to know your librarian’ initiatives.     

I don’t know who will be training the staff or how it'll be funded. I assume that will have to come out of the initial funding, otherwise it could mount up if, as you suggest, the turnaround is high. They’ll want the staff to be just as informative and helpful as before.

But how can they be? Part-timers? And I suspect the stock will suffer as well. Maybe the council want these tier three places to fail, that way they can shut ‘em, saying they tried but there weren’t enough willpower within the community. They’ll cite the figures, and they don’t lie!

No, the council want the libraries to survive. They’re just looking at the best way to make this possible. It’s like when they introduced the machines, to facilitate the borrowing and returning of books, you can even pay your fines with them.  

Hah. They’re like those automated supermarket checkouts. You need human help. You know you can’t return a book from another library, it confuses the machine.

Well, they’re not replacing humans with machines this time, but the county council needs to save money. We are yet to hear the city council’s plans.  

That’s one way they could save dosh. Merge the two. Seems daft to me that the city and county have separate library services. Surely they could become one, cutting costs in the process? And why are they paying so much for books? Each service pays a premium for each book bought. If the county council want 20 copies of the latest best-seller, why are they paying the full RRP for them? Imagine how many copies the taxpayers are buying up and down the land. Surely the libraries can bulk the orders and bag a generous discount. They should be buying at £2 per book not £9.99.

I’m not sure what the initiative will mean for new purchases.   

Why are they even buying popular titles? I think most of these books should be donated to the libraries. Mind you, I’d charge punters 10p for each book taken out, excluding youngsters. That way authors could be paid a decent fee. The current PLR situation is a disgrace. Let the authors get what’s due. If they did, authors’d make sure that libraries were stocked with their books for nowt. They’d make a tidy profit over time, if they were paid fairly.

But should any new books be bought or authors paid more when frontline services are also being cut?

Libraries are knowledge providers. Be it fiction, non-fiction or use of the internet, libraries are access to information. Forget the media  - so much owned by so few – it’s libraries that are best placed to facilitate thought and imagination.

We’ll see what happens.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Message from Lowdham Festivals & Southwell Library

History Month – November 2013

Join us every Thursday evening in November for a fascinating series of talks from authors whose subjects range from Richard III to Plato, from the barbarians to World War I, and from US President James Madison to Lenin.

All talks take place at 7.30pm at Southwell Library
The Bramley Centre
King St
NG25 0EH 0
01636 812148

Tickets from Southwell Library or The Bookcase, 50 Main Street, Lowdham, Notts NG14 7BE
Call our Box Office: 0115 966 3219.

Save money and buy a Season Ticket for all four events!
£20 full, £17 concessions, £15 Festival Friends                   

Thursday 7th November

Philippa Langley and Michael Jones:
The King’s Grave – The Search for Richard III

On 22 August 1485 Richard III was killed at Bosworth Field - the last king of England to die in battle. For ten years Society member Philippa Langley and historian Michael Jones have shared a vision to find the real Richard - the lost king buried underneath a mound of hostile propaganda. Their book is a unique collaboration.

Tickets: £6 full, £5 concessions, £4 Festival Friends

Thursday 14th November

Authors Giles Milton and Saul David discuss their new books...

Giles Milton: Russian Roulette

The destruction of British India was the first stage in Lenin’s plot to bring down the democracies of the West. A group of British spies was smuggled into Soviet Russia to prevent this. An unlikely group of men, they were self-taught but highly educated and well versed in dirty tricks. Their boss was a monocled, one-legged sea captain with a passion for secret inks and homemade explosives.

Saul David: 100 Days to Victory

A totally original, utterly engaging account of the Great War – the first book to tell the story of the “war to end all wars” through the events of one hundred key days between 1914 and 1918.  Saul David shows vividly how the war reached beyond the battlefield, touching upon events and lives which shaped the conduct and outcome of the conflict.

Tickets: £6 full, £5 concessions, £4 Festival Friends.

Thursday 21st November

Peter Snow: When Britain Burned the White House

Two hundred years ago, Britain attacked the heartland of the United States and defeated them in battle. The President and his wife had just enough time to pack their belongings and flee the White House before the British army entered and set fire to the building. From here, the British army turned its sights to Baltimore…

Tickets: £7 full, £6 concessions, £5 Festival Friends

Thursday 28th November

Historical fiction authors Anthony Riches & Tom Harper discuss their new novels...

Anthony Riches: The Eagle’s Vengeance

The barbarian leader Calgus defies both his barbarian captors and Britannia's legions – and Marcus Aquila – once more in the sixth thrilling novel in the Empire sequence, praised by fellow-authors Conn Iggulden, Ben Kane and Manda Scott.

Tom Harper: The Orpheus Descent

Once Plato was a questing young man with a secret. He left behind a key, a tiny, burnished, golden tablet thrown away into a swamp that he never expected anyone to find. 2500 years later a young archaeologist stumbles on the greatest secret history the world has ever known…

Tickets: £6 full, £5 concessions, £4 Festival Friends



We have a few tickets left for Festival Friends ONLY for this very special afternoon...
Thursday November 7th - 2.30-4pm

An Afternoon with David Suchet at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham

David Suchet will be talking with co-author Geoffrey Wansell about his acting life and about their new book, Poirot and Me, in which he explores his relationship with Agatha Christie's wonderful creation, the "little Belgian" who he has grown to love dearly over more than 25 years. There will be a chance to ask questions and David will sign books in the foyer in the interval and after the event.

Please note that tickets for this event are available ONLY from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 0115 989 5555 or online at www.trch.co.uk
APART FROM Lowdham Festival Friends who can book through The Bookcase on 0115 966 3219.

And don’t forget Christmas! Start (or finish) your shopping at our Christmas Shopping Day on Saturday November 9th at The Bookcase when we launch our lovely range of Christmas books and gifts, plus a late night shopping evening on Friday December 6th as part of Lowdham Christmas Market.


Tuesday, 1 October 2013

New bookshop to open in city centre

Exciting news!

Nottingham is to have its first independent bookshop in the city since 2000. Opening in mid-November  - at 14a Long Row, opposite the Tourist Information Centre – the shop will trade under the name Five Leaves Bookshop.

The new bookshop will specialise in history, politics and landscape; fiction and poetry; lesbian and gay books; and international writing, with an emphasis on independent publishers.

The Five Leaves Bookshop will complement other local independents including The Bookcase in Lowdham and the graphic novel specialists Page 45 in Nottingham city centre. It aims to open for trading on 9th November, with a grand opening on 16th November with events in the shop all day.
Nottslit Blog is happy to promote the shop and its events.



Marty Ross - one man show

Wednesday 2nd October



Cost: £2

Marty Ross presents his one man show of Thomas Hardy’s Barbara of the House of Grebe

Thomas Hardy's strangest, darkest love story “BARBARA OF THE HOUSE OF GREBE” is brought to dramatic life in this one man show by storyteller, performer, playwright Marty Ross.  When Barbara loses the man she truly loves, Lord Uplandtowers steps into the breach - but when he finds his wife is still haunted by the memory of her first husband, he decides to play the cruellest of tricks...

For more information and to book your place visit the Ground Floor helpdesk / 0115 915 2825
Details: Jane.brierley@nottinghamcity.gov.uk
For more information about Marty visit:

Friday, 27 September 2013

Book Launch, from Weathervane Press

Book Launch at Southwell Library
Saturday 28th Sept, 11.30am
All welcome to attend the launch of this hot off the press new title.



Debut novel by Southwell based writer

Michael R D Smith.

Toby Malkin, a young and talented lawyer, expects everything in life to go his way. Maria Cracolicci, a hapless secretary, has learned to expect far less. But when a set-back to Malkin's progress unleashes the full, destructive force of his ambition, Maria feels compelled to stand up to him, however dangerous this may be. She confides in attractive colleague, Tom Elliott but her stubborn tenacity puts their new friendship to the test.

Maria must expose the truth about Malkin before she is crushed like everyone else in his path but she needs to reconcile her differences with Tom to achieve this.

Stylish, simmering and sexy, The Deed Room is a story of intrigue, murder, deception and romance. Set in Nottingham in the world of corporate law, this compelling novel builds to a dramatic and unexpected climax.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Free marketing tips for authors

Raising Your Profile

Sat Oct 5th,  11.15am

Gedling Civic Centre, Arnot Hill Park, Arnold, Nottingham

A FREE talk that will appeal to authors.

'Every new book is a start-up business’
Chris Day

If publishing is a 16th century technology, with a 19th century business model, how is it adapting to a 21st century digital world?

Join the publisher and marketing expert Chris Day as he explores the ways in which authors can raise their profile. Let Chris help you take full advantage of the many no-cost ways there are for authors to be easily found online, and learn how to build profitable routes to market.

Part of the NWUK book festival

Monday, 16 September 2013

NWUK Book Festival, Oct 5th

New Writers UK annual book festival

At: Gedling Civic Centre, Arnot Hill Park, Arnold, Nottingham
Free to attend. Talks for writers and readers.

Saturday October 5th

Guest speakers: Frankie Owens, Chris Day, Mark Gwynne Jones, David Bowman & Steven Dunne.


Sunday, 15 September 2013

Eastwood Expo & Book Bonanza

A new event to be held at Beauvale Priory on Saturday 21st September, 11am-5pm
It should appeal to writers & readers.
Literary Talks

Screen, Stage and Page. A Mansfield Library event.

Telling Stories on Screen, Stage and Page

17th September
In the course of an action-packed career, Mansfield’s own Kevin Fegan has been an award-winning playwright and poet as well as a writer for Coronation Street. Join him as he discusses how stories are told in each of these forms.

This is part of a season of talks by writers at Mansfield Library. If you are interested and available, please come along.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

D H Lawrence Society's Birthday Lecture

D.H. Lawrence Society's Birthday Lecture: 'D.H.Lawrence as Philosphical Novelist

11th September
In the last three decades of the twentieth century Lawrence’s reputation went into eclipse in many circles because of the concentration on the supposed opinions found in his work. By the end of the century he had not only started to recover from this but had been shown to have anticipated some of the central themes of cultural and philosophical critique in the new century. The theme is doubly timely in so far as his mature thought in this regard began to emerge a hundred years ago in the transition from Sons and Lovers to The Rainbow.
Michael Bell is Professor Emeritus in the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Warwick where he is also an Associate Fellow. His books include ‘D.H. Lawrence Language and Being’ (Cambridge university Press, 1992) as well as substantial discussions of Lawrence in his other written works.

Time: 7.00pm – 8.00pm
(Doors open at 6.30pm)

Venue: Eastwood Comprehensive School, Mansfield Road, Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, NG16 3EA

Booking: Tickets available from the D.H. Lawrence Festival Box Office and on the door at the venue (subject to availability)
£4.50 – Standard
£4.00 – Concession

For further details or to request a D.H. Lawrence Festival programme email culture@broxtowe.gov.uk, visit www.dhlawrenceheritage.org or telephone 01773 717353

Friday, 23 August 2013

Lowdham Festivals - Autumn Programme

September - December 2013

Highlights include Tracy Borman talking about the Witches of Belvoir in Bottesford Church, Michael Morpurgo reading War Horse in Southwell  Minster, a gardening themed day in partnership with Lowdham Horticultural Society, an afternoon with David Suchet at Nottingham Playhouse, and a History Month in Southwell Library.

Lowdham Book Festival First Fridays September – December 2013

Friday 6 September - Quick Reads
Quick Reads CEO Cathy Rentzenbrink talks about this very worthwhile book trade charity project aimed at the one-in six UK adults of working age who find reading difficult and may never pick up a book. Of particular interest to those in the adult literacy field or in education. 

Friday 4 October - Tales from the River Trent
In September 2012, Sophia Collins and Ross Winter walked from one end of the River Trent to the other. Like troubadors, but armed with laptops and a ukulele, they put on shows along the way celebrating the history of the river. From encounters with angry cows to the secrets of Burton's brewing industry... all will be revealed. www.talesfromtheriver.wordpress.com

Friday 1 November - From the Gods to the cheap seats
Former projectionist Phil Rosen will be joined by local cinema expert Michael Payne to revisit the heyday of cinemas in Liverpool and Nottingham.

Friday 6 December - A Christmas Carol
Lowdham Book Festival Players present a lively reading of Dickens's classic story – complete with seasonal refreshments.

All First Friday talks take place in Lowdham Primitive Methodist Chapel, Main Street, Lowdham  2 – 3.30pm

Tickets £5 (£4 concs, £3 Festival Friends), including tea and cake,
from Lowdham Festival Box Office – 0115 966 3219.

September events:

Friday 13th  7.30pm - St Mary the Virgin Church, Bottesford NG13 0DA
An Evening with Tracy Borman

September 1613. In Belvoir Castle, the heir of one of England's great noble families falls suddenly ill and suffers an excrutiating death. It is said witches are to blame...

Tickets £3, redeemable against purchase of the book.
Available from Lowdham Festival Box Office 0115 9663219 or contact Christine Lucas, 07837 815026,

This is a Lowdham Book Festival On Tour event  in partnership with Penguin Random House

Saturday 14th September 11am – 4pm
The Bookcase, 50 Main Street, Lowdham

Books Are My Bag – The Big Bookshop Party!

Celebrate the launch of this nationwide campaign. Books Are My Bag is a collaboration between publishers, bookshops and authors, and is the biggest ever promotion to celebrate the nation’s love of books and bookshops, inviting all book lovers to visit their local bookshop on Saturday 14th September and join in the fun. And quite by chance The Bookcase celebrates its 17th birthday on that day – so there will be cake, bubbly, free books, special offers and general merriment – do come along!

Tuesday 24th September 7.30 - 9pm – Southwell Minster
Michael Morpurgo reads War Horse with songs from
BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winners John Tams and Barry Coope

A magical evening awaits. Michael Morpurgo will read from his book, War Horse, accompanied by wonderful musicians. Told through the eyes of the horse who didn’t have the human frailty of taking sides, this epic and powerful story moves from life on a farm in peaceful Devon to survival on the Western Front in the First World War.
This will be an unforgettable evening.

Tickets: £17 full, £16 concession, £15 Festival Friends, under-16s £10 from the Festival Box Office 0115 966 3219
Suitable for children aged 10 years and above

October events:

Saturday October 12th – The Great Outdoors
Lowdham C of E Primary School, Main Street, Lowdham, Notts

A day of events in partnership with Lowdham Horticultural Society celebrating gardens and gardeners through the ages. Full programme to follow but the day will include a Gardeners Question Time panel hosted by BBC Radio Nottingham’s John Holmes, a talk by Ursula Buchan about her book A Green and Pleasant Land – How England’s Gardeners Fought the Second World War, a gardening themed quiz, stalls from local groups including Nottingham Organic Gardeners and the Notts Wildlife Trust – and more…

November events:

Lowdham Festivals History Season  – celebrate all things historical this month with talks every Thursday evening at Southwell Library.
7.30 pm start, bar available.

More details to follow soon, including a historical fiction panel, but so far there is authors of a book about the King’s Grave on Thursday 7th, and Peter Snow talking about his new book When Britain Burned The White House - The 1814 Invasion of Washington on Thursday 21st.

More details about all these events will follow very soon – in the meantime do keep in touch through the websites www.thebookcase.co.uk and www.lowdhambookfestival.co.uk

General  Ticket Booking Information
Tickets are available from The Bookcase, 50 Main Street, Lowdham NG14 7BE over the counter, by mail or by credit card over the phone (Festival Box Office: 0115 966 3219 10am-4pm Monday-Saturday) or, subject to availability, on the door at events. If ordering by post please enclose a first class SAE and include a contact phone number. Cheques are payable to Lowdham Festivals Ltd. There is a 75p surcharge for postage on credit card telephone bookings.

Monthly Talk - West Bridgford Library

Crime Writing

Tues 27 Aug 2013
Cost: Free
Monthly Talk – Adults

John Baird and Michael J Smedley from New Writers UK discuss how plots are devised and characters created, with an emphasis on crime fiction.

 Booking advised.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

The poem as document: writing place through accumulation

The places we live, the selves who we are, and the writing we make can no longer be understood as singular. Other stories, other perspectives run just below the surface or thread themselves through it. A place understood in this way becomes stratified—layered with time and the bodies and objects it contains—rather than horizontal. Its depth indicates its complexity and its contradictions: all this in one space!

This workshop asks how we might write poems that look at place with an eye toward this multiplicity of presences. How can we write about where we are or where we have been, while thinking about who else has been there (or is there), what has happened there, and what has moved through that space? We'll use an excerpt from THE RINGS OF SATURN by W.G. Sebald and an excerpt from Carolyn Forché's long poem “On Earth” to think about documentation as a way of making writing and as a way to think the poem as an open, complex, and sometimes self-contradicting document of what is or has been in a place. The workshop will include discussion of the pieces of writing provided, as well as a number of exercises through which we'll question our ideas of place and the places we think about.

Please bring objects with you that recall a place or places you have been that you would like to write about—as many as you like. This could include plant material, photographs, soil samples, rocks or other specimens, souvenirs, quotations from others' writing or your own....

Éireann Lorsung's two collections, both from Milkweed, are Music For Landing Planes By (2007) and Her Book (2013); poems, stories, essays, and reviews appear in numerous journals. She lives in Belgium, where she edits 111O (111oh.com) and co-runs MIEL, a micropress (miel-books.com).

A previous WEM's Writer of the Month

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Starting to Write a Novel with Niki Valentine

From 'Writing East Midlands'

6 sessions from 24 September

When: Tuesdays, 7pm – 9pm

Where: Waterstones Nottingham, 1/5 Bridlesmith Gate, Nottingham NG1 2GR

Cost: £90 plus 4% PayPal fee if booking online. Alternatively you can book and pay over the counter in store.

This course is designed for those new to novel writing, who may have always wanted to write a book but are looking for inspiration and guidance. Led by an established novelist and teacher of Creative Writing, students will have the chance to explore and develop their ideas, and learn about how other novelists plan and grow their ideas into books.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Guest Post: The Strange Alliances - David Belbin

Elaine Aldred’s blog The Strange Alliances explores different kinds of writing and storytelling, examining the craft. With her kind permission I am pleased to share an excellent interview recently featured on the blog with the Nottingham author David Belbin. It concerns his old ‘new adult’ fiction and the influence of Ed McBain on his work.
The title ‘David Belbin. Now and Then. A Forensic Examination’.


Elaine: The revolution in e-books means that authors are able to make previously out-of-print books easily available, at an affordable price. These earlier works may provide an interesting comparison to an author’s current novels, as well as introducing new readers to their work. David Belbin has recently made some of his ‘The Beat’ series, written in the 1990s, available as e-books. I wondered what influence they had on his current ‘Bone and Cane’ series and what it was like for an author to write a contemporary crime novel in the 1990s (The Beat) and write a crime novel now, but set in the 1990s (Bone and Cane).

‘The Beat’ novels, a series written twenty years ago, are about young police officers going through their probation period, whereas your more recent ‘Bone and Cane’ series features a politician and convicted criminal and has a very different feel in term of writing style.

David: They may have a different feel because ‘The Beat’ novels, unlike ‘Bone and Cane’ were written for teenagers, and you do need to get straight to the point when you’re writing for that audience. My first three young adult books were very much aimed at the younger end of the young adult market, 12 to 14 years of age. When I started doing ‘The Beat’, I got the freedom to write something more personal. It was my series going out under my own name , so I could write a little bit older than I previously had done. Part of that was because the protagonists had to be older (you couldn’t join the police until you were 19). So it wouldn’t have been realistic to write the characters in the same way that I wrote the earlier books, where the characters tend to be between the age of 15 and 17, which is the more common age for the protagonists in young adult fiction.

I wrote the series over six years and as it progressed, the police officers got older. The series lasted two years of chronological time (the probationary period of the police officers involved). Some of the point of view characters were older adults, which you don’t tend to get in young adult fiction. This type of fiction tends to be called new adult fiction these days, and that’s as good a phrase as any to describe it.

Having said this ‘The Beat’ always had more of an adult audience than most of my one-off books. That’s hardly surprising, because they have very adult themes. It was modelled on, though not slavishly so, Ed McBain’s ‘87th Precinct’ series. That’s why they have a rubric at the front of every book, which is a tribute to the rubric that appears at the beginning of every ‘87th Precinct’ novel. ‘The city in these pages is not real’ etc.

Would you describe the ‘87th Precinct’ novels for anyone who’s not read them?

They are the first ever real police procedural novels. They started out in the mid 1950s. Evan Hunter, better known as McBain (both names are pseudonyms), would write three a year in his earlier years, then two a year, and as he got older one a year. There were over 50 of them in total. They’re set in a fictional city, Isola, but it’s really New York. They’re quite gritty crime stories, usually mysteries, but the personal lives of the policeman are sparse. Although there is a little about the most sympathetic protagonist in this series Steve Carella, who has a blind and beautiful wife called Teddy, who occasionally finds herself in danger.

The writing is remarkably consistent throughout the series. There are very few examples of series that go on for such a length of time, without the writer going off or getting bored. Although there was a period where the novels became more violent and not quite as good, towards the end they return to top form. So I think they’re shining example of what can be done with a good police series.

When I published Missing Person I sent Ed McBain a copy of it. I had a very nice note back from him saying ‘Enjoy your success’. He also told me that he didn’t have a copyright on the police procedural and that his mother’s maiden name was Coppola, which was the name of my heroine. So that was a nice coincidence.

You chose an Italian family for ‘The Beat’ series. Is that because there are quite a few Italian families in Nottingham?

No it was entirely because, in the book Avenging Angel, where some of the characters first appear, the person who is killed (Clare’s younger brother) had to be  called Angelo for the title to work, and therefore the family had to be Italian. The rest is just happenstance. In a way that turned out to be a tribute to Ed McBain, because his real name is Salvatore, and he’s from an Italian background. But again it was just coincidental. Oddly enough Avenging Angel was dedicated to John Harvey. What I didn’t realise at the time, was that his first crime novel, which was published under a pseudonym (Thom Ryder) was also called Avenging Angel.

So you wanted to not only write police procedural, but also build in more of a character study and watch the characters grow as they got more experience?

Yes, I wanted to be able to write a complete story arc. I didn’t know how it would end, and I knew I would have to decide whether Claire would remain in the police force or not, because she had quite strong doubts about joining in the first place.

In the early days of the series, I was just happy to have a regular writing commission that enabled me to give up being a schoolteacher and become a full-time writer. I had an awful lot of fun being able to write more or less what I wanted. I love writing in the crime genre and I was well versed in police procedurals. It also allowed me to talk about issues of late adolescence, a subject which has always interested me, as well as issues to do with justice, which is one of the major themes of crime and, indeed, much fiction.

The ‘The Beat’ series is based in Nottingham. Did you find that using a real place created any constrictions as far as writing is concerned. For example, you have to think carefully about timings when people move from one place to another.

I think constrictions are actually very useful for a writer. It annoys me when a writer sets the story in real place and they get things wrong. There is a danger that, when you write a novel in a place that you know well, you can take quite a lot for granted and therefore don’t convey that well. Often writers will write about places much better when they’re away from them, for example Alan Sillitoe wrote about Nottingham while he was in Majorca.

People have told me, after they’ve read the ‘The Beat’ novels, that they get a very strong sense of Nottingham city. I do try to convey that in all of the books. I see writing about what I know as an advantage. What I do regret is that I didn’t keep more thorough diary as the city was changing in the late 1990s to 2000, because I knew I would write something like ‘Bone and Cane’, and it would have been very useful to have those notes for my research, rather than having to go back and check things.

Does that mean that you had to physically go and check places for ‘Bone and Cane’?

Occasionally I check stuff from photographs and old newspapers, but luckily my memory is fairly good. And of course some aspects of the city are fictionalised, because I’m not writing a documentary.

Policing has changed over the last 20 years, for example mobile phones weren’t used to the same extent they are now, and the Internet wasn’t as well developed.

I’ve actually been researching mobile phones for the next novel I’m putting out, Love Lessons, which is set in 1995. Had it been set four years later, in 1999 (when mobile phones exploded and became much more common), the plot wouldn’t have worked, because everybody would have had mobile phones. It’s been a while since I read the later ‘Beat’ novels, but certainly in the earlier ones nobody has mobile phones.

How you think that affects the way the characters work as far as policing is concerned?

By the time you get to 1999, mobile phone records do become salient to the plots, and although they do offer certain possibilities, it also means it’s easier to keep track of someone using them. This was also the time of the Internet explosion. The arrival of the Internet made a lot of difference. As far as ‘Bone and Cane’ is concerned, I think it’s interesting writing about the 1990s from this distance of 15 years on, because you can have some historical perspective upon it. It would be an interesting research project for someone to look at the novels that were written in the 1990s to see how these technological advances have featured in contemporary novels.

So you’ve had experience writing a contemporary crime series (The Beat) set in the 1990s and another series (Bone and Cane) looking back on the 1990s. What was that like for you as a writer?

Contemporary is easier, for obvious reasons, but the big difference is that ‘Bone and Cane’ is set in a very specific time period while ‘The Beat’ is set in two fictional years that are clearly the 1990′s but not a specific year in the 1990′s. For instance, there’s a description of a Hole gig from 1995 (though I never name the band) and, in the final novel, the tram lines are being laid, which hadn’t happened when I wrote but implies it’s 2001. I do quite like the specificity of using real time, though it can be more work. I also do it in The Pretender because it had to include the deaths of Graham Greene and Roald Dahl, Love Lessons, for no particular reason, and Festival: The Glastonbury Novel, which is very specifically set at the 2000 festival. The risk, of course, is that setting your novels in a particular time period will make them date badly. But in each of those cases, I think the advantages of specificity outweigh that problem.

What do you think that twenty years of writing novels has done for you as a writer?

‘The Beat’ series helped me develop writing multi-character novels and work out how many points of view a novel could handle, and how to handle a narrative that covers a long period, which is germane to Bone and Cane. I also learnt a great deal about suspense and plotting complicated mysteries. Plotting is one of those skills all literary writers tend to sniff at, but it’s just as important as style and as important a part of an author’s work as the way in which they write prose or dialogue. I certainly wouldn’t be writing what I’m writing now without the experience of writing those twelve Beat novels. Each ‘Bone and Cane’ is twice as complicated as the last and I wouldn’t have the nerve to do that were it not for the experience I had in writing those relatively complex crime novels in the 90s.

‘The Beat’ novels start off following a relatively straightforward crime template, with a main plot and subplot, which usually but not always collide. However, they are anything but formulaic. One of the interesting things for me reading books that I wrote 18 years ago, is that I can’t remember exactly what happened in them, so I’ve occasionally surprised myself.

Each book, except the last one, was commissioned in pairs. I quickly became aware that I could only plot one book ahead and that the second in each pair would be written on the hoof. So it tends to be that the odd-numbered books are more conventional mysteries like Missing Person, Smokescreen and Dead White Male. The even numbered books, on the other hand, were all about issues that got under my collar at the time, such as rape and sexual assault in Asking For It, and about the National Lottery and casinos in Losers.

I started writing Black and Blue just after the racist attack upon the Mushroom Bookshop (a radical bookshop in Nottingham), in 1995. I wrote it in the immediate aftermath of that event and the novel builds up to a conclusion where there’s a demonstration that really did take place. But I wrote the fictional scene of the demonstration which concludes in a quite violent assault on one of the racists, before it had actually happened. I actually went on demonstration wondering what would happen and there were one or two things that did happen afterwards, particularly one of the racists getting severely beaten up (something I discuss in the afterword of the book). Events echoed the novel albeit too closely. I made a mental note not to sail quite so close to the wind in future. But nevertheless, writing those novels did give me feel for writing about contemporary events and how to do that. This is something I was able to bring to ‘Bone and Cane’.

I always knew that I was going to write something like the ‘Bone and Cane’ series. I was influenced by Trevor Griffiths’ ‘Bill Brand’, a drama series set on the last days of the Harold Wilson era, that I watched when I was about 18. In 1997, when it was apparent that Labour were about to come into power, I spent a couple of days in the House of Commons just before and after the election. I even got myself an unpaid researcher’s job with my local MP. Unfortunately I then have my pass turned down, because they found out I was a professional writer and were worried that I might leak stories to Private Eye. So I was researching it then, and I knew that’s what I was planning to do. It took me another 12 years to actually get the thing out there.

Are there afterwords in all the ‘Beat’ series you have released?

Yes it’s a way of giving added value to the books and it’s useful for me to reflect upon the books. It seems to me that the new audience who are reading them are mostly adults, who have come across my crime novels already. They seem to be pleasantly surprised when they find out they were originally published as young adult novels and they claim not to have noticed any difference.

When you make the move to ‘Bone and Cane’ it is truly an adult novel because of the content and language used in it.

Yes it starts off with a much more explicit sexual assault than I would have ever done any young adult novel. That’s partly to separate these novels from the previous series.

How easy is it to write that sort of scene?

I think you have to take the attitude that a little goes quite a long way. There’s a scene in the new ‘Bone and Cane’ book, which is the most horrible one I have yet written. But it’s been very obliquely done. The reader knows exactly what’s going on, but the description is very spare. These scenes are difficult to write, but you have to write them and keep rewriting until you get it right. One’s intention is never to titillate but it can be to shock.

Compared to the ‘The Beat’ novels, ‘Bone and Cane’ would appear to be much more complex. One of the main protagonists is a politician and the other a convicted criminal. So not only is politics involved there is also a complex dynamic in the relationship between the two characters.

A politician, Roger Wellington, does rear his head in ‘The Beat’. He lives in the Park (a private housing estate in Nottingham), and there’s a scene in Losers in which he makes a pass at Charlene Harris the solicitor, who is the ex-girlfriend of Ben Shipman, one of my main protagonists.

The involvement of politics in a novel gives you more possibilities. One of the good things about MPs is that they’ve got recourse to all kinds of knowledge and power. I’ve set myself this task or limitation of not having any police point of view characters in the ‘Bone and Cane’ series. So they’re crime novels, but nothing like a police procedural novel. I felt I’d done that in the 1990s.

A lot has changed since the 1990s, because there’s been an absolute explosion of police novels. For me, Politics has always been an abiding fascination and I still have contacts within the House of Commons, as well as contacts who were there in the 1990s.

It does require a certain amount of research and does give you a lot of fictional possibilities. Politicians can be just as crooked as police officers. The original title of the first ‘Bone and Cane’ novel was Previous Convictions. There’s a bit of wordplay in that in that, because it’s Nick Cane’s journey from being a convicted criminal to becoming, maybe, a useful member of society or someone will go back into crime. There is always a tension with that, because, when you’ve got a prison sentence behind you it’s always a lot easier to offend again than to get a job.  Sarah, meanwhile, has to see how her political convictions measure up to the reality of Labour being in power. The situation creates a conflict in the relationship between Nick and Sarah, who’s trying to pursue a political career. If she resumed their relationship, that would be fairly suicidal for her  promotion prospects. Remember, though, that Nick was only caught growing marijuana, an activity that may well become legal in our lifetimes. That aspect of the story came to me when I visited someone’s new flat in The Park in 1992. They rolled up their carpet and showed us, in the hall, the steps down to the caves and the traces of cannabis that were still down there. It was one of those gifts that writers sometimes get.