Category Archives: A Writing Life

Writing Life: too political?

‘My writing is my activism. Writing is like breathing.
I do it to stay alive as well as to feel alive.’
Una Marson.

Una Marson (1905-1965) was a writer and the first black woman presenter to be employed by the BBC, working there from the 1940s. I found out about her through this fascinating documentary: BBC iPlayer – Una Marson: Our Lost Caribbean Voice And check out her poetry, especially Little Brown Girl and Black is Fancy. An introduction to Una Marson’s poetry | The British Library (bl.uk)

Of course, my life has been very different to Una Marson’s, however, the quote above really resonated with me. ‘My writing is my activism.’ Yes it is for me too. I rarely go on marches these days – though I was once tear gassed by the French police on an anti Front National rally. I am involved in various non-governmental organisations, especially ATD Fourth World UK – All Together in Dignity to Overcome Poverty (atd-uk.org), and I give money to others, but my writing is the place where I mainly explore the issues I feel passionate about.

Recently, I have been asked if my Donna Morris novels (https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Kate-Evans/A-Wake-of-Crows–The-first-in-a-completely-thrilling-new-/25544314) are too political and too didactic. I find these questions difficult to answer.

I came to political consciousness through the feminism of the 1980s. The idea that everything is political and the decision not to discuss something is as political as the decision to do so, remains paramount for me. Plus I write what I would want to read. I want to read things which open me to differing worlds and perspectives.

Or do I? Apart from as background for something I am writing, would I want to read a novel from the point of view of someone who supports Nigel Farage?

Apparently we all want to live in an echo chamber these days. And it is true, that I have grown weary of arguments with people who hold views which are completely opposed to mine. In the past, I have found these energy sapping and, quite frankly, a waste of time. How many opinions have I changed? People are as entrenched in their silos as I am. I think maybe only experience changes views. Perhaps if Suella Braverman spent a night in a detention centre, she would behave differently?

However, it’s worth noting, there are studies which show that reading can increase empathy for people who have different life experiences from our own. So hopefully, if I do my research right, my writing could at least have that effect.

Will I lose some readers through revealing my political stance too readily and clearly? Do I care? I’m not sure that I do.

Next Event
If you want the chance to question me further on this or anything else, then I would love to see you at Newcastle Noir, 11th December 2022, 2pm, The Bloody White Rose: Newcastle Noir 2022 Tickets, Fri, Dec 9, 2022 at 6:30 PM | Eventbrite

Events!

I have been rather overly excited these last few weeks as I have been involved in several literary events.

The first was Bloody Scotland, in Stirling, 15th-18th September. The biggest crime writing event in Scotland, and the biggest I have ever attended. I got to wear one of these for the first time!

It was a whirlwind. I tended to swing between feeling, ‘Yes, I have arrived, this is my tribe’ to feeling small and a fraud. The well known ‘imposter syndrome’. But I got to meet some genuinely lovely people who I hope I will stay in contact with. And my panel went well, ably chaired by Harriet Tyce, with Jane Corry and Trevor Wood either side of me. The audience of about 30 to 40 people were attentive and appreciative.

Then a surprise invitation from Philippa East, to be part of an online panel chewing over the Psychological Secrets of Writing. Along with Philippa chairing and me, there were authors Bev Thomas and Julia Stone who are both working psychologists and psychotherapists. The discussion was far ranging and interesting from my point of view, looking at how our psychology/therapy training and experience interweaves with our writing. It is perhaps not surprising that our novels feature therapists. Some of you will know from my self-published novels a counsellor called Hannah. She will make a triumphant return in my third in the Donna Morris series, No Justice (soon to be delivered to the publisher and out next year).

If you want a listen to the Psychological Secrets of Writing, then this is the link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCGmuYBbitKjO2yhfGSR4SgQ

In the same week, I was lucky enough to be invited to do an event at Scarborough library. It was fun to be on my home patch, with people in the audience who I knew. Not all of them were friends and family, though, there were some new readers and I am grateful for that, not to mention the book sales.

And in October, I am making the short journey to York to be part of their Big Read programme.

My event is on Thursday the 20th October, 7pm-8pm. Tickets can be reserved at Explore York or via this link: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/drowning-not-waving-with-kate-evans-tickets-403295185757?aff=odcleoeventsincollection&keep_tld=1

I do feel dizzy with it all and that means I have less headspace for the creative stuff. But this week I have to centre myself – walking and swimming will help – in order to complete No Justice and work on proposals for the next three Donna Morris mysteries.

The Psychological Secrets of Writing

Long time subscribers to my blog know that it is very unusual for me to post two weeks in a row, let alone one day after another. But I want to share this exciting news. My interviewee of yesterday, crime writer Philippa East, has invited me onto a virtual panel ‘The Psychological Secrets of Writing’.

Fellow panellists are writers Bev Thomas and Julia Stone, with Philippa hosting. We all have a background in psychology and/or therapy. We will be chatting about the links between psychology and writing, how our day jobs inform our creative work, and how a little expertise in psychology can help with character, plot and engaging with readers. We will also be delighted to answer live questions from the audience.

Details: Monday, 26th September 2022, 7pm-8.30pm. It’s free, but please register (and to find out more information about panellists) – https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/psychological-secrets-of-writing-panel-1-tickets-347107928157?utm-campaign=social&utm-content=attendeeshare&utm-medium=discovery&utm-term=listing&utm-source=cp&aff=escb

Hope you can come along!

Harrogate Crime Writing Festival 2022

Attending events – especially those where a certain amount of networking and putting myself out there is required – is not without its anxieties. Then Covid added its own peculiar menace to being around people. I have to admit, therefore, it was with some trepidation that I set off for Harrogate and Theakston’s Crime Writing Festival on Saturday.

Luckily this year the sessions were in a large airy marquee and eating and drinking could be done outdoors, which allayed some of the fears. And I was able to meet with a couple of authors who I already knew, so that also helped.

I enjoyed the sessions I attended. ‘Experts Chortling’ brought together some of my favourites: (Baroness) Sue Black and Carla Valentine with psychologist Emma Kavanagh. They were joined by former police detective Graham Bartlett. As well as being a wellspring of interesting information, they were all very funny too.

By the time I got to the book shop Sue Black’s books had sold out. I am not surprised. She manages to make the business of death and the dead fascinating and entertaining without ever losing respect for those who have died. Plus, if you are a newbie crime writer, along with Unnatural Causes by Dr Richard Shepherd, Black’s books, interviews and documentaries are gold dust.

During the panel, Emma Kavanagh said crime writers were too often drawn to featuring characters traumatised by their pasts. What is more remarkable in reality, Kavanagh suggests, are the number of people who fall apart after trauma, and then show resilience, recovery and growth. It got me wondering where this might fit into a crime story.

The other afternoon session I went to was a discussion of the ‘future of the police procedural’. The panel was: AA Dhand; Jane Casey; Parker Bilal and Adam Lebor. All were clear on the duty of the crime writer to tackle difficult issues in a responsible way. Casey suggested crime authors are the ‘Rapid reaction squad of the literary world’ developing stories around current debates quicker than other writers.

Lebor said (as I have done in the past) that there are far too many young women who end up dead in the crime fiction genre. His series is set in Hungary and has a detective from the gypsy community (apparently ‘gypsy’ is the term used by the peoples themselves in this country). It has plenty of scope for exploring the lives of refugees, as well as the prejudices against the Roma.

They all characterised their protagonists as ‘lone wolfs’, especially AA Dhand’s Harry Virdee who the author likened to a gothic comic book hero (not my taste at all and I realised why I had never taken to his books). With my Donna Morris mysteries, I have gone in the other direction. Donna is definitely not a maverick and she needs the team, just as they need her (though she struggles to properly comprehend this). The relationships between the police officers are something which has been praised by some readers. I hoping the future of the police procedural includes space for a team player.

After paying £4.35 for a cup of tea (yes!!) and spending more than I would care to mention on books, I wended my way home. A shout out to Northern and Transpennine Express whose staff were friendly and whose trains were on time, comfortable, clean and not too busy.

Have any of you some good memories of literary festivals you would like to share?

Do women protagonists have to be nice?

Breaking News….

Saturday 2nd July, 2022, 2pm-3pm, I will be doing a signing at Mrs Lofthouse’s Emporium, Queen Street, Scarborough. Come along for a chat, I would love to see you.

Saturday September 17th, 2022, crime festival Bloody Scotland
10:30am-11:30am, I will be appearing on a panel entitled ‘Secrets and Lies’
https://bloodyscotland.com/ to book tickets.

Thursday 20th October, 2022 part of the Big Read, York
7pm-9pm, I will be interviewed & giving a reading at York Explore
https://exploreyork.org.uk/

Does the reader have to like the protagonist?

I have recently been given some feedback on the first of my Donna Morris novels, A Wake of Crows: the reader enjoyed the novel but didn’t like the main character. Unfortunately, this was passed onto me second hand, so I couldn’t probe further, but it got me thinking – should I be creating a likeable protagonist?

In fact, this question has followed me around for some time. I self-published three crime novels 2013 to 2015 with a main character called Hannah. More than one person told me she was unlikeable. She was going through a hard time and we were inside her head which got pretty dark at times. Yet her experience mirrored mine in many ways. After a friend waxed lyrical about just how unpleasant Hannah was, I did wonder whether they knew me at all or whether I was just very good at dissembling.

In crafting Donna, I made a conscious effort to create her more agreeable. She is not as ‘abrasive’ as Hannah was, Donna is kinder, she is not as intense.

Of course, not every reader is going to like every character. However, I did start considering whether this idea of being likeable or not stems from my protagonist being female? Are male detectives in crime novels expected to be amenable? How about Ian Rankin’s Rebus, Colin Dexter’s Morse and Conan Doyle’s Sherlock. Or even Christie’s Poirot? Though in each case there is a more charming side-kick who is, perhaps, the one readers actually relate to.

There has been a long tradition in crime writing of the detective being flawed in some way. I think Donna is less flawed and generally more genial than some, but maybe she (like many women) just has to be ‘nice’?

Do you have to like the protagonist to enjoy the read?

Midsummer

‘Kate Evans delivers a gripping crime debut
with a truly original policewoman as the central character. Highly Recommended.’
Myles McWeeney, review of A Wake of Crows, Irish Independent, May 7th 2022

The days are getting warmer and brighter. In a week it will be the longest day – midsummer. This always seems to come too early for me. We’ve barely begun to enjoy the season and suddenly we are at the mid point.

I also feel slightly out of kilter when it comes to my novel writing. A Wake of Crows has appeared in paperback and Drowning Not Waving in hardback. The first of DC Donna Morris’s adventures in Scarborough is just garnering some interest – like the review above – and I am already finishing off her third story (yet to be titled). I am on track to deliver this in the Autumn.

I was comforted when I heard Abir Mukherjee on Radio 4’s Bookclub. We were discussing his first novel, while he had already published his fifth, and he quipped that he had almost forgotten the plot of his debut. I am certainly afraid I might muddle up what happened when to whom between the three DC Morris mysteries.

What is also facing me – as the excitement around A Wake of Crows is rising – is a big blank. My contract was for three novels and I have, essentially, completed them. What comes next? I have everything crossed for another contract. But the workings of the publishing world are still something of a mystery to me and this is by no means certain. So maybe this is the end of my ‘being published by a traditional publisher’ trajectory. A brief but magnificent arc, like the traces of a rocket on bonfire night.

In my early twenties, I would attend firework displays put on by a BBC engineer friend of my husband. He boosted his pyrotechnics until it felt like being in the middle of the Big Bang when they went off. How I hope my publishing rocket could be given the propulsion of one of his.

Editing and Rewriting

I would never call writing a hard job. Not hard like working in a shop or a care home. But there are times when it gets tougher, and, for me, this is during the editing and rewriting stage. I am lucky to have useful feedback from my editor and her assistant. I like to get this as early as possible, in case there are any big changes to make and I always advise writers to find trusted readers to give a decent critique.

But writers also have to know where to start with editing their own work. Here are some words of wisdom from Booker winner Hilary Mantel, sent in an e-newsletter by Mslexia on the 17th June 2021. (For women who write, Mslexia is a national magazine of women’s writing.)

‘Don’t try to edit while you are writing. Your first draft is all about energy and unleashing your power. Respect the process of creation and give it space. It’s like planting a seed. You have to water it and watch it emerge and grow before you can prune it into shape.

‘There isn’t any failed writing. There is only writing that is on the way to being successful – because you’re learning all the time. It follows that that nothing you write is ever wasted, and that to become good, and better than good, you need to write a lot.

‘Suspect the judgment of others. What people coming from a different critical context might describe as slowness or failure you need to reframe as patience and a learning process.

‘Harness the power of intuition to free up your story. Many of us learn to write in an academic style, building a logical argument, picking over every line. This can inhibit a novelist. Aim at perfection – but in your final draft.

Photo by Jane Poulton

‘Rules that are valid in the rest of your life are not always valid for your writing. “Try, try and try again” does not always work for the creative process. Sheer bloody persistence won’t necessarily get you where you want to be.

‘Trust that your work will find its natural form – because it will. Our education system fosters habits of mind that knock out the habit of trust in what we create. You need to rediscover that trust.

‘If you are a great reader then you can become a great writer. If you read many novels, and many different kinds of novel, the principles of novel writing will be encoded deep inside you. That’s what I mean by trust. If you are a reader, then you know subconsciously how to tell a story.

‘Be protective of your work and resist the temptation to show it to anyone before you are satisfied with it yourself. When you do show it, make sure it’s to someone who is qualified to make a judgment. People who love you, or who feel threatened by you, will not provide you with the feedback you need.

‘Seek support from the right people. Try to get a professional opinion from someone who doesn’t know you. But always try to balance their feedback with what you know and trust to be true of your work.

‘Have the courage to try something new. If the world doesn’t seem to want your work, then be adaptable and flexible, but don’t compromise your vision or sell yourself short. Timing counts, and your time may come.’

All good advice as you would expect from such a renowned novelist. I do think searching out the right people to give feedback at the right time is crucial. Too early and it’s like stamping on a shoot just as it is coming above ground and too late the bush is already mature and thriving.

Another thing I have found fellow writers struggling with is when to stop editing and rewriting. Personally I like what novelist, Anne Tyler, said on BBC R4’s Desert Island Discs, (20th & 25th February 2022): ‘I revise until I think I will throw up if I read it again.’ Yep, that just about covers it.

Writing a Sense of Place

It was a great boost to my confidence to have a review of A Wake of Crows by Natasha Cooper in the ‘Literary Review’: ‘Well written and without any flashiness, this believable police procedural deals with guilt, vengeance, love, a serial killer with a God complex and redemption. It is quiet, effective and moving.’

And also to be interviewed on BBC Radio York by Bek Homer:

BBC Radio York – Bek Homer, 07/03/2022

All in time for the paperback edition to be released on the 7th of April.

Meanwhile, I am working on novel three, currently titled The Shark’s Mouth. As I was completing the second half of this particular draft, it felt like, having built up the plot like a Jenga tower of clues, I was having to very carefully take it down piece by piece. If I did this too quickly, the tower would collapse into a pile of incredulity.

For weeks I have felt as if I am living inside my novel and the reality is the fiction. Which, to be honest, is easy, given the madness which has overtaken the world.

In all my novels I want to create a strong sense of place. Here are some thoughts on how I do it.

  • I am lucky enough to live in the town I write about. Pretty much every day I take a walk to the sea. As I do so I make a conscious effort to notice with all my senses and, if anything reveals itself to me, I will write it down in my journal.
  • I describe the landscape using very simple language. The kind of language a child might use. And then I go over and over it, interrogating it for more detail.
  • I love to use imagery which dips into metaphor. Sometimes these will occur to me when I am walking and noticing. Other times, they can start out as a cliché or a well worn phrase which I then cross-examine to find something more interesting. For instance, the white crests on waves are often likened to white horses. But what other four legged animal could they be? And so on.

I always strive towards a balance between stark description and more complex imagery.

What tips do you have for writing descriptive passages?

The Year of the Tiger

January has slunk by without me acknowledging it on this blog. But, by chance, I have hit on the Chinese New Year (just a week late!). It is the beginning of the Year of the Tiger and crime writer, Ovidia Yu has helpfully summarised some predictions: Murder is Everywhere: Gong Xi Fa Cai from Singapore Ovidia is the author of an excellent crime series based in Singapore, next book out soon I believe: Ovidia Yu – The Official Ovidia Yu Site

According to the Chinese zodiac, Donna Morris, the protagonist in my crime series set in Scarborough, is a tiger, so it is her year. The first book in the series, A Wake of Crows, is out in paperback soon, and the second, Drowning Not Waving, is published in hardback in June. A Wake of Crows by Kate Evans | Hachette UK (littlebrown.co.uk)

In a lot of cultures, resolutions are a part of the turning of the year. If the number of swimmers in our pool is anything to go by, most of Scarborough appears to have decided to take more exercise in 2022.

For writers – would be and more experienced – the resolution must be to write. To listen more, to notice more, to read more, but always to write.

I enjoyed this from Cathy Retzenbrink:

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2022/jan/02/we-often-fail-to-keep-resolutions-but-writing-in-a-notebook-brings-great-rewards

In another interview, she suggested writing as if no one will read your words as a way of keeping going. This might be a method for circumventing the internal critic for some, however, for others I guess the question which might pop up is: ‘If there are no readers, then why write?’

For the pure joy. To tell us about ourselves. To explore the world as we and others experience it. To understand more. To distract us. To give us a safe place.

These are some of my answers. Let me know your own.

I do think that once we think of sharing our writing with a reader, then we have to consider them. We have to get feedback. We have to craft. But I also know that I would keep writing even if publication is not a possibility. Just as I would keep breathing – my rather fiery breath – since, in Chinese terms, I am a dragon.

Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Solstice Reflections

We are at another fulcrum point in the year: after the 21st/22nd of December the days will get (infinitesimally) longer. In many traditions, light is brought into the darkest part of the year and it is a time for reflection. Personally, about the only aspect I do enjoy of the modern frenetic/consumerist Christmas, is the lights which twinkle out even as the day dissolves into evening around mid-afternoon.

2021 has not been an easy year for any of us – and much tougher for some than for me, certainly. However, it is perhaps worth considering some of the things which have kept me going: love, friendship, swimming, yoga, walking, reading and, of course, creativity.

2021 saw the publication of my first novel brought out by a traditional publisher: A Wake of Crows (A Wake of Crows by Kate Evans | Hachette UK (littlebrown.co.uk). Literally a life-long ambition. This is grounds for great joy and satisfaction. And things roll on from this: an audio book (which I still haven’t been brave enough to listen to); a large print; copies in libraries; my appearance at a literature festival; the paperback appearing next April. Sweet.

My second novel in the series, Drowning Not Waving, has been accepted by editorial and is now going through the process of copy editing, proof reading and production. It should be out next June.

The making of Drowning Not Waving has not been exactly smooth. It was a story I wrote when I did a course with Curtis Brown in 2017. It has been re-written several times since. And at the beginning of 2021 I started on the final re-construction: changing the main protagonist to Donna Morris; changing the other point of view character to help with plot issues; and strengthening the environmental theme.

Perhaps it is because of the amount of re-writing and re-configuring which has gone on that I have found getting feedback from editorial and the copy editor more sticky than usual. Still, deep breath, I think I have ended up with a good novel, despite it being a bit of a messy ‘breech birth.’

As a member of the Poetry Books Society (The book club for poetry lovers. (poetrybooks.co.uk), I have enjoyed discovering new poets this year. And with many literary events and workshops going on-line, I have been able to participate in them more than usual.

The most recent has been Radio 4’s ‘Bookclub’ discussion of Abir Mukherjee’s A Rising Man, (due for transmission on 2nd of January 2022). Who knows if I will make the final edit, but it was great fun being involved. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to tell the presenter, Jim Naughtie, that I was there at his debut on radio. I was the production assistant for the ‘Week in Westminster’, where he first got on air. I doubt he would have remembered me: the typer of the script and the bringer of tea.

This year, I have also once again kept up with my monthly collages. Some technically better than others, but all a pleasure to realise.

As the year ‘turns’ and we move into a new year, I send warmest wishes to my readers. I hope 2022 will be easier for everyone and a creative year for all.