Category Archives: 2018

This is Going to Hurt – An Evening with Adam Kay

What happens when a man who has humour in his bones works in an intense job as a junior doctor? Along with experiencing 97 hour weeks, life and death decisions and a large amount of bodily fluids, for Adam Kay, it resulted in several diary entries written scrappily in secret. These notes eventually led to his book “This Is Going To Hurt: The Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor” – a no-holds-barred account of his time on the medical front line.

Billed by Stephen Fry as “painfully funny” and “something entirely good, entirely noble and entirely loveable,” Kay has created a masterpiece which perfectly reflects the current zeitgeist of pressure on the ailing NHS and it’s staff. With the event falling at the time of the NHS’ 70th Birthday and the day Prime Minister Theresa May unveiled a £20bn spending boost for the service, discussions of the pressures faced by young doctors felt particularly pertinent.

Kay captivated the audience at  Stockton Library earlier this week as he spoke about his experiences – in turn hilarious, heartbreaking and horrifying  – whilst reading extracts directly from the book. The audience (including more than a few junior doctors) laughed, groaned and were moved by the diary entries that had begun their lives scribbled on scraps of paper in stolen moments. The witty and brilliant one-liners readers had become accustomed to came thick and fast as Kay, an award winning comedian as well as a former junior doctor, spoke animatedly of his time on hospital wards. He reads an extract, dated Wednesday 25 August 2010:

An 85-year-old, long-stay gynae oncology patient broke our hearts on yesterday’s ward round. She misses her late husband, her children have barely visited since she’s been in hospital and she can’t even have her usual whiskey nightcap in here. I decided to play Boy Scout, prescribed whiskey (50ml nightly) on her drug chart and gave the house officer £20 to get a bottle from the supermarket to pass on to the nursing staff, so they can fulfil the prescription on their drug round. This morning, the ward sister reports that the patient declined her drink because and I quote: “Jack Daniel’s is fucking cat piss.”

The final diary entry in the book was Kay’s last as a junior doctor. He described being unable to face going back to work and added that he was dreading something bad happening all the time.  After leaving the profession, his diaries stayed in a drawer unread and unshared. But when his peers came under attack in 2015 when the conversation around contracts reached fever pitch, he decided his diaries demonstrated an important point. Speaking to Psychologies Magazine in 2017, he explained: “The government was promoting the message that the junior doctors were being greedy, which was a dagger to my heart, because they really weren’t – they were worried about working conditions and patient safety”, adding that his book presented an opportunity to change people’s minds and educate the masses about the reality of being a doctor in the NHS today.

But for Kay, it was as much about humanising the profession as it was for backing up those facing the challenges of changing contracts. Through his diaries and his work on the book, he wanted to remind the public that doctors are humans too – and he has done exactly that. Kay’s candid humour and honesty provide insight to the life of the doctor standing behind the desk, whose shift has gone over by two hours and who hasn’t eaten for since noon, as a patient shouts at them for having to wait for an appointment.

Above all, This Is Going to Hurt reminds readers that as with most things in life, kindness is key.

Julia Gray at Nunthorpe Academy

Many parents would certainly argue that capturing the attention of one, let alone over 100 Year 9 students is no easy feat, but young adult author Julia Gray did just that when she attended Nunthorpe Academy last week to discuss her work as an author. Within minutes of beginning to discuss her novels Little Liar and The Other Life, Julia had the youngsters enthralled.

One thing that stood out most about Julia Gray was how easy it was for the young people to relate to her – and how attainable and realistic she made her role as a writer seem, without glossing over the nitty gritty hard work that’s required to be a published author.

Gray spoke ardently about her newest novel, Little Liar, which was released last month, unravelling the key themes of friendship and teenage life, dusted with sprinkings of the supernatural. “The biggest story in this whole book is about friendship,” Gray explained. “The main character, Nora, meets another girl from her school – Annabel. She really catches her attention because she’s very eccentric, super confident and lives a fabulous life. Nora thinks Bel is one of the most exciting people she’s ever met in her life.”

Gray continues: “They’re similar in many ways – because they’re talented and determined and they both tell lies. They have quite a risky and dangerous friendship. And I wanted to capture the intensities of the relationship.”

But it’s the supernatural with which Gray seems most comfortable. She told the audience: “I love a story that bridges the gap between the everyday world and the mythical, because it makes the reader question what’s real and what’s not. I’m not talking about high fantasy, I’m just talking about recognising things where you can’t quite tell what’s real.” As a result, both Little Liar and The Otherlife are filled with references to Norse mythology.

While Little Liar concentrates on the relationship between two female characters, The Other Life explores the relationships between to male characters, Ben and Hobie. Ben, whilst dealing with a tumultuous home life finds he has a unique gift: he can see “The Other Life” – a violent, mythic place where gods and monsters roam. Hobie is desperate to be a part of it and will do anything he can to make that happen.

Despite the differences between the two novels, Gray explains that they are largely similar in many ways: “Both of my books are about friendship. Both are about choices. And both are supernatural too.”

Gray added: “I really like narrators who aren’t your typical heroes. I have a real soft spot for characters where you’re on their side but you can see that they’re making mistakes. These characters allow us to feel empathy in a way we wouldn’t ordinarily – and it makes us think about how we would have reacted in the same situation.”

But perhaps one of the most pertinent parts of Gray’s talk to the students was the fact that while writing obviously comes naturally to the author, it hasn’t always been a straightforward journey. She explained the process she experienced of writing was a winding road which took her to many places before she held her own book in her hands, but argued that perseverance was key to being a successful writer.

She explained: “I think writing looks really easy from the outside. But there are so many twists and turns that a book has to go through before it gets to a point where it’s finished”. Gray described how her parents experiences of the writing profession meant she was surrounded by people who “found great value in the written word” and “the idea that you can use the written world to change things” was fed to her from a young age.

“I always knew I wanted to write books. But it still took me until I was 34 to write a book and get it published”.

Her closing statement to the youngsters was an encouraging nudge towards pursuing a career as an author. “Writing is a worthwhile career choice. And there are lots of different avenues that you can explore to make it work for you”, while her realistic approach to criticism was endearing after hearing her own experiences of rejection: “If you really want to achieve something, it’s really worth trying again. And try to hear the good things about the criticism other people give you.”

An Evening with Mick Herron

If there’s one thing Mick Herron knows, it’s how to write a thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat. While we’re sure he knows a lot more than just that, Herron, who is billed as “the John Le Carre of our generation”, is certainly a pro at creating stories and characters to entice his readers.

We were joined by Herron at Stockton Central Library on Wednesday evening to discuss his body of work – from his standalone novels “Reconstruction”, “This is What Happened” and “Nobody Walks” to his sprawling tales of spy life in the Slough House and Zoe Boehm series.

But before getting into the nitty gritty detail of his work on his novels, the author told the audience about his love for libraries and credited it for largely feeding his love of writing. He explained: “I’ve been a library user all my life. I love libraries. I’ve always been a borrower. Someone asked me if I minded people borrowing my books from libraries and it would be absolutely hypocritical of me if I did mind – because I borrow books.”

He added: “As a writer, I think it’s the quantity you’re reading, not the quality. All the writers I know have been avid readers. By and large most of the writers I know have been in libraries for most of their lives. Libraries offer an infinite syllabus because it’s limited only by the imaginations of those who stock the shelves. It’s a never-ending resource.”

Herron explained that he grew up knowing he was going to be a writer. Born in Newcastle and educated at Balliol College in Oxford, the author began writing crime novels, but gradually moved into the thriller genre. His fourth published book, Smoke and Whispers, was the first he wrote about his hometown of Newcastle, but he explained: “I’d been away from it for a long time and I didn’t feel like I could write about it as a native. I felt safest writing about it as a visitor.” After writing Smoke and Whispers, Herron began moving away from crime and into the thriller genre. He became fixated on the idea of writing a novel about groups of people, examining the way these people interacted with one another. Thus came the birth of the Slough House series.

Based around a group of exiled spies who found themselves relegated to a communal building, a house where these people were going to go and “stop being a nuisance”, Herron’s idea was to examine how these people were taking the starring roles in the narrative of their own lives: “I wanted to have a bunch of characters all of whom thought they were the hero. They all thought they were the main character of the narrative, and therefore they’d be butting heads with each other”.

From creating the concept of the series, Herron’s attention moved to his characters. Describing his tendency to write quite rhythmically, it was the surname of one of the key characters that came to him first: “Part of creating character is giving them names. I knew that the first book would centre around a young man who was exiled to Slough House for reasons beyond his on making. And I knew that his surname was Cartwright. But I didn’t know his first name.”

He added: “The name eventually came on my commute between Oxford and London. I was standing there as the train went over the river. And I thought of the name River. But with the name came everything else. If he’s called River, he must have had pretty flakey parents, because only flakey parents would name their child River. So I knew his mother was going to be an old hippy. But he needed someone who instilled in him the values to set him on his path to being a spy – and that person became his Grandfather.”

Herron was brimming with accidental tips for budding writers as he described his own processes. He explained that as a rule, his idea for books stem from characters, or a set of characters and the plot follows, adding ruefully “Ideas in general – the ones that stop you in your tracks – they’re rubbish. They never work out. The ideas that grow slowly in your mind are the ones that really work.”

The audience remained as captivated by Herron himself throughout the evening as they have clearly been by his books over the years. Questions came thick and fast for the writer, as audiences inquired about characterisation, writing timelines, plot development and so much more. As audiences waited patiently for Herron to sign their books, the anticipation for whatever Herron will write next was almost palpable.

Sarah Dunnakey’s Literary Quiz Night

Within minutes of arriving at Acklam Library, it was clear that this part of author Sarah Dunnakey’s extensive book tour was a homecoming. The author, born and raised in Guisbrough and the surrounding area, was immediately at ease and settled into the evening talking about her book “The Companion” quickly.

Her book “The Companion” is a carefully weaved tale of buried secrets and an unsolved murder, set both in the 1930’s and present day and across the sprawling landscape of the wild Yorkshire Moors. Described by critics as “utterly charming, wonderfully creepy and rich with mystery” (C.L. Taylor), “An absorbing mystery story” (Katherine Webb) and “Buried secrets, intrigue and betrayal are the hallmarks of this compelling tale” (My Weekly), The Companion has captured the attention of readers across the country.

The tale follows the story of Billy, who becomes a companion to the child at the big house above the valley, Jasper. Billy leaves home to find a wild, peculiar boy in a curiously haphazard household where nothing that’s meant is said and the air is thick with secrets. Before long, tragedy strikes and fictions become tangled up in facts, yet it’s left to Anna Sallis, almost a century later, to unravel the knots and find the truth.

Vibrant, clearly full of love for her characters and passionate about the intricacies of The Companion, back at Acklam Library, Dunnakey talked enthusiastically about the process of writing the book and unravelling the secrets the characters hid. Inspired by the cotton mill in Hebden Bridge, Dunnakey began to imagine all of the lives that had passed through there – and the strong voice of young Billy came quickly. She described exploring archives of The Times in her local library: “I was meant to be researching something else when I was looking at a 1938 copy of The Times. In these papers, there were personal columns – which are always worth looking at. I spotted an advert for a Hotel in Cornwall. And below it there was an advert for colonic irrigation. In between, there was an advert: “Child companion wanted – age 6-7 for boy 7”. And then I thought, that’s what’s going to happen to our Billy.”

From there, Dunnakey found the perseverance to plough on with her story, explaining: “The first rule of writing a book is to apply yourself. Quite often when you’re writing, the beginning comes and the ideas come, but the middle and the end are where the hard work comes in” and credits her writing classes as being the driving force behind finishing the first draft of The Companion.

In February 2015, Dunnakey was signed by Lucy Luck of literary agency Conville and Walsh. By October, she had completed the first draft of the story. By March 2016, she got “the call” to let her know Orion wanted to publish Billy’s tale. And from there, The Companion became a reality and was published in July 2017.

The research which led to Billy’s character development has always been a big part of Dunnakey’s life. For her “day job”, she’s a TV quiz setter, creating questions for Mastermind and Tipping Point to name just a few, and this has clearly helped her forge her way to published author. One audience member asked her how she got into quiz writing. Dunnakey explained that she had trained as a librarian at the British library. When presented the option to move into academic library or public library, she chose to pursue academic library and didn’t enjoy it as much as she hoped. But it was another advert that helped carve Dunnakey’s path to TV quizzing. She spotted an advert in The Guardian for a “researcher on Mastermind”, where the crucial requirement was that applicants “must have experience of libraries”. She got the job (over 1000 other applicants) and began her career setting quiz questions.

To round off the evening, Sarah Dunnakey set the audience a literary themed quiz with the opportunity to win a cracking prize of books and chocolates. Including themed questions identifying the literary companion – think Piglet to Winnie the Pooh and Asterix to Obelix – to establishing book titles from their covers, the evening wrapped up with some heads down, hands on flexing of the audience’s literary brain muscles.

History Wardrobe: PINK – The True Story

From the very get go, audiences at Darlington Library knew they were in for a treat last night as they played host to the inimitable History Wardrobe. From slinking in to the theme from the Pink Panther and wrapping up with an engaging story about misconceptions around gender, the duo took an enraptured audience through the fashion history of the colour pink in a truly memorable way. Offering up an immersive whirlwind tour of Victorian and Regency periods then making their way through the following decades to the present, the History Wardrobe presentation of Pink – The True Story made for a fascinating and entertaining evening of music, comedy and history. From salmon and rose to berry, peach and candy…audiences were captivated by tales of every shade.

The “Two Lucys” – Lucy Adlington and Lucy Ridley – opened the evening with a question for the audience: “So – you think you know pink?” Adlington asked. “Who thinks Pink is a girl’s colour? Who thinks pink is a boy’s colour? And who knows the truth?” Adding that pink is the only colour which appears to have a gender, the pair explained “pink is just part of the spectrum of light – it doesn’t have any cultural meaning apart from what we put on it”.

When, in history, did we become aware of pink? Adlington and Ridley explained that swathes of it appeared in the middle ages, but it was really by the 18th Century that it began to make its way into the wardrobes of the elite. Showing an exquisitely recreated rose pink waistcoat, the duo commented that “pink would have been considered a superb choice for an elite man”, but added: “Do we see portraits of elite men wearing pink in the 18th century? Yes. Do we see portraits of elite boys wearing pink in 18th century? Yes. Does that mean pink is a man’s colour? Or do we also see pictures of elite women wearing pink in the 18th century? Yes. Do we also see pictures of elite girls wearing pink in the 18th century? Yes. So – where does the idea of pink being for girls and blue being for boys come from? It’s completely made up.”

When combating the idea that pink is “weak, gauzy and fluffy” the duo presented the audience with a pair of pink pointe shoes – traditional shoes worn by ballet dancers for centuries. “Consider the hard work that the shoe is subject to” Adlington implored the audience “feet crammed into it and the pointe sewn and re-sewn again and again”.

“The ballerina might look like a fairy crossing the stage” she added “but as she does so you can see every sinew and every muscle is working hard. Ballet shoes look romantic but the reality is hard work, graft and pain.”

From the early appearances of this oft debated hue, the History Wardrobe team took the audience on a merry dance through the ages, exploring the true meaning of the colour pink and examining it beyond gender representations. The duo wear an exciting and often entertaining wardrobe to demonstrate the history beyond the cultural implications of the colour. To demonstrate the rise of “tea rose” and peach hues in lingerie, Adlington wears 1940’s inspired boudoir wear. The 60’s were represented by a “popping, zinging” paper dress, a Beatles inspired two piece Military style suit in a hot pink hue and a nod to Jackie Kennedy’s infamous pink suit. When Ridley pops on the ensemble to represent the 70’s in a hand-knitted pink bridesmaid dress complete with hood, which has to be seen to be believed, the audience are horrified, captivated and entranced by the fashion example from the “what were we thinking?!” era.

From the 70’s the duo moved up to present date, examining the power of the colour pink in Indian and Pakistan heritage. The Gulabi Gang (the Pink Sari Gang), fought against injustice, domestic violence and corruption, established by Sampat Pal. Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai wore a statement pink scarf given to her by former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to talk at the UN about the importance of boys and girls being given the same access to education. And no presentation on the colour pink would be complete without a hat tip to the pop sensation P!nk.

The evening was a veritable feast of pink history, gender politics and common misconceptions set straight, served with a hearty dollop of humour and a heavy dose of brilliant personality from the Two Lucys. It was an evening not many in the audience will forget for a while.

Short Story Anthology Awards Evening

The first Crossing the Tees Book Festival short story competition culminated in a fantastic awards evening at Middlesbrough Library.

Congratulations to Michael Parker for winning first prize, Colin O’Cahan for second prize and Ethel Stirman for third prize. Many thanks to our host for the evening Bob Fischer, judges John Nicholson, Becci Sharrock, and Mark Freeman.  Also, many thanks to our 2017 Writer-in-Residence Tracey Iceton who supported many entrants in the competition.

Thanks to Scott Bonner for the amazing photographs to mark the event.

This year’s short story competition is now open http://www.crossingthetees.org/short-story-competition/