Published Sunday, 22nd May 2022
By Helen Aitchison
The North East folk are a talented bunch of people and I don't just mean the likes of our region's legends such as Ant and Dec, Sting, Robson Green, Alan Shearer and Catherine Cookson. We have some amazing creatives living in the local area, who's work inspires and interests many of us.
As someone who only got into writing the last few years, I've connected with some brilliant writers this last 18 months, who's work is eclectic, engaging and entertaining. I interviewed four of the many, talented local authors, who shared their writing journey, inspiration and how our magnificent region influences their books. Here are the authors and this is what they had to say!
Rachel Hutchins is from North Tyneside and writes historical romance, romance books with an empowering edge and cozy mysteries.
Image credit: Radio Gateshead
Ellie White is a Sunderland based author who writes contemporary romance.
Image credit: Radio Gateshead
Andrew Stedman is from Northumberland and has published a historical book, inspired by his academic background. He now writes fiction with the aim to publish in the future.
Image credit: Radio Gateshead
Alex Mayberry is from Durham and writes contemporary fiction novellas and poetry.
Instagram and Facebook: @alexmayberry
Image credit: Radio Gateshead
1) How did you get into writing?
Rachel: When I was unable to continue in my previous role as a teaching assistant, due to chronic illness, I decided to follow a previous idea I'd had some two decades ago to be an editor. Whilst I enjoyed this work, I had the constant niggle that I'd like to try writing too. At first, I wrote for my own self-expression, to work through the mental struggles my illness had brought. Soon, I decided to take the leap and share my work. My first published writing is a book of 12 short Christmas stories entitled, "Counting Down to Christmas."
Ellie: I started writing as a way to pass the time on my metro commute to work. I didn't intend to do anything with the many unfinished stories I had, I just did it because it was fun. When lockdown hit in March 2020, I had just had my daughter. My son was only 19 months old and the world felt like it was falling apart, so with the spare time we now had, my husband (who was furloughed) and I picked up a hobby. He started running and I decided to pick up one of my stories and finish it. Again, I had no intention of publishing until I asked for someone to read it and they gave me the push I needed, that's how Love & London came to be. I've always been an avid romance reader so I fell into writing romance naturally.
Andrew: I got into writing from my academic background. My PhD thesis won an award a few years back and this allowed me to write my history book, 'Alternatives to Appeasement', which has been republished recently. So, I knew I could write at least reasonably coherently and tackle a big, long-term project. A few years back, when I was still working at Newcastle Uni, I found myself on part-time hours, which left me with a day or two 'free' most weeks. Like many people, I love reading and imagined myself tackling a novel at some point, so the two things came together nicely - an irresistible compulsion and enough spare time. I've been writing fiction for about five years now and can't see myself stopping anytime soon! I was lucky enough to get a literary agent - Marianne Gunn O'Connor - on the back of my first book; a children's middle grade fantasy adventure about a community of crows. She is trying to get me a tradition publishing deal for that now.
Alex: My Dad worked abroad when I was young, and would send, or show us when he was home, little compositions he'd written. I thought his verses about vegetarian werewolves, and monsters wanting to play were clever, but there would be the odd serious one in there too, either about war or human nature.
My own writing developed over a long period of time. It started with a bunch of Valentines poems, which I sent anonymously to friends and family when I was about 15, and on to pieces written at university, laughably imagined as lyrics. The reactions from the few that I let read these was always positive, so I think the idea that I could write, and do a good job of it, was there long before I seriously gave it a go.
When my dad retired, he quickly produced two novels. I read these and gave him feedback, during which I'd think about how I would have phrased things differently, or spun the tale he was telling. My Dad encouraged me to write. Then during the lockdown, like many people I had time on my hands, and the idea for 'Yes, No, Sorry, I love you' was formed.
2) What inspires you to create your stories?
Rachel: My contemporary romances ("The Angel and the Wolf" and the Found in Fife series) were inspired by my desire to focus on mental health struggles, on grief and physical trauma. I wanted to show relationships that were real and raw and that there is no 'quick fix' even when you find the right person.
For my historical fiction, written under the pen name Anne Hutchins, I was inspired by my interest in the Edwardian period, and in the 'ordinary folk' of the time. The class system, social struggles and injustices of the time, and the role of relationships in all of that inspired my writing.
Cozy mysteries have always been a comfort read for me. They evoke memories of my childhood watching black and white Miss Marple films with my grandmother, and Poirot with my parents. Yes, I love Agatha Christie's mysteries! When I was a new mother, the books of M.C. Beaton were easy to read between other tasks, and I found comfort in the familiar characters and settings as the series continued. It is this familiarity, this comfort factor that I've tried to achieve with my Baker's Rise Mysteries series. I love the gentle humour that often accompanies books in this genre, and the promise that you are cushioned from the harsher realities of life that you see in thrillers. So, I'm writing what I love and it brings me joy!
Ellie: The characters inspire me to write the stories I write. Sometimes the characters will just pop into my head and demand that I write their stories!
Andrew: I have a vivid memory of watching a bunch of birds fighting over some discarded fish and chips when I was a small boy! It was a real epic battle of the skies - that stuck with me - and that was the genesis of my children's book! I am interested in nature and the environment, so I've also written a children's story about an octopus, which I hope might see the light of day at some point. My 4 year-old nephew is forever sparking my imagination! I also have a few adult works in the pipeline. Here, my everyday experiences - conversations you hear on the bus; things you've read/watched the night before - influence me heavily. Then, of course, one's past experiences and one's moods and memories!
Alex: Firstly, I have a lot of ideas, and it helps, being a natural overthinker, that I can take them when they come and think about the routes that could be explored through storytelling, although not at 3am when my mind won't switch off and let me go back to sleep.
Secondly, when I open the laptop and delve into a scene, I become absorbed in it. That's a great place to be, and where I think you need to be to get the emotional beats of the story right. I've laughed and cried many times at things I've heard my characters say, or the way they've reacted in a scene from my vantage point somewhere nearby, seeing events unfold as they happen in my imagination.
Lastly, while I write stories that I want to tell, it's a wonderful feeling when someone reads your work and says they got it; that it was meaningful to them. You aim to be relatable, and when someone tells you that happened, it's always a special moment.
3) Who are your favourite three authors / favourite three books?
Rachel: K R Richards - The Lords of Avalon series, Agatha Christie - My favourite of hers is "4.50 From Paddington" and Denise Domning - Her seasons series in particular.
Ellie: My top 3 are Melissa Morgan, Lyndsey Gallagher and Jen Morris. All of which are indie authors that I discovered through Instagram.
Andrew: My answer to this changes all the time. In children's writing, I really like Frances Hardinge, although I'd also mention Katya Balen, who's 'October, October' I recently LOVED! In adult fiction, some of my favourite books over recent years have been Anthony Doerr's, 'All the Light we Cannot See', Robin Robertson's, 'The Long Take', and Donald Ray Pollock's, 'The Heavenly Table.' I love Bernard Cornwell in historical fiction too!
Alex: Growing up, I wasn't a big reader. The book that got me back into reading was 'The Morals of Marcus Ordeyne' by William John Locke, whose title character I identified, and sympathised with enormously. Since I've started to write, I read more than I ever have, and I've found in the online community, where the support from other authors has been wonderful, so many talented people. Harriet (Harry) Pearce's novelette 'Sunshine After the Rain', and Gemma Iversen's novel 'The Galven Border' are two great books by superb authors. There are so many more that I'm currently reading or have on my 'to read' list, including Kandice DeLuccy, Amber Herbert, Nicola Lowe, Garry Michael, Jon Herrera, and B N Kumar. I'd encourage everyone to seek out and support new authors, and post reviews please.
4) What three words describe your book(s)?
Rachel: For my cozies: Quintessentially British mysteries
For my Romance: Hurts, hearts and healing
Ellie: Romantic, heartfelt, book-boyfriend.
Andrew: Tough question! Off the top of my head, I'd go 'quirky'; 'accessible'; 'heartfelt'.
Alex: The three words I'd use to describe my books, based on what others have told me, are funny, heartfelt, and poignant.
5) What elements of the North East of England feature in your book(s)?
Rachel: "The Angel and the Wolf" is set in coastal Northumberland and my Baker's Rise Mysteries Series is set in the fictional Northumberland village of Baker's Rise, somewhere in the rural landscape between Morpeth and Alnwick. In the mysteries in particular, I've incorporated elements of quaint village life, local mannerisms and sayings. I reference towns such as Alnwick, Morpeth and Whitley Bay, as well as the city of Newcastle upon Tyne. I hope I've conveyed the sense of community often found in the northeast, as well as our humour and resilience.
Ellie: My published book, Love & London, is set in London but the rest of my planned novels take place in the North East, predominantly Sunderland and Durham.
My next release planned for Spring 2023 pays homage to the North East Musical Theatre industry and the fictional theatre featured is inspired by both the Sunderland Empire and the Newcastle Theatre Royal. Scenes also take place in Roker Park and the Roker/Seaburn Seafront, the Sculpture Trail along the River Wear and Penshaw Monument to name a few.
I can't wait to introduce my readers to the North East and the fantastic culture and industrial heritage we have here!
Andrew: The NE heavily influences my writing, although not always in terms of a literal setting. My crow book, for example, is very definitely set in an unnamed English NE coastal town, so my upbringing in Blyth is key here, with hints of Whitley Bay and Newcastle perhaps. One of my adult works-in-progress is about a University Lecturer, so I draw quite heavily on my memories of Newcastle University here - even if the University in the book is not named and the characters are, of course, entirely fictitious! I like to think I've got a good ear for creative dialogue - as have most Geordie folk!
Alex: My books are themed heavily on relationships, and having been brought up in the North-East (born in 1980), the culture I was raised in, with all its attitudes and customs, has undoubtedly shaped the tone, language, and humour I use in my writing.
I've purposefully not stated in my stories where they are based, so if a character talks about going to a café for a bacon sandwich, or about going on a pub crawl, they could in theory be anywhere. In my mind though, that café could be one I went to in Seaton Carew with my Grandad on a bus day trip when I was a bairn, while the pub crawl could follow a path I use now through the centre of Durham City, where nearby I live and work.
I do feel very fortunate to have grown up in a time before the internet and all the technology that dominates life today; a time when the world felt a little bigger. I think that perspective, reminds me that for all the things that change, such as technology and other fads, people by and large are no different really from previous generations in terms of their wants, needs, and dreams. My characters have all faced difficulties at some point, like everyone, but I wouldn't describe any of them as mean-spirited. The same can be said of people from the North-East, who in my experience, are generally warm, welcoming, and generous. I'll save the mean-spirited characters for when I'm ready to write a horror book, which I'd love to do; one for grown-ups, rather than kids.
It would feel an opportunity wasted, as a newly published author, to not put my own links in! My debut novel, The Dinner Club, was released in March 2022 with UK based, Cahill Davis Publishing. Available from a variety of stockists, in paperback and e-book. The Dinner Club | Universal Book Links Help You Find Books at Your Favorite Store! (books2read.com)
You can follow my author journey at www.helenaitchisonwrites.com (where there are links to all my socials).