Vicky Newham

Leave a comment

A mooch round smelly Whitstable

(This poem was written for the Whitstable Museum of Fun ‘Smell Walk’ hosted by Kate McLean)

The summer downpours have rinsed the sky
And stranded disappointment in puddles on warm tarmac.
The sea wind has rolled back an invisible gauze of smells,
The air slaps the senses: salty, tangy.
At low tide, forests of seaweed dry, the colour of slate and moss,
Silt on the sea floor, stinky and rotting,
A living carpet of decomposing shellfish.
On the stony beach, damp barbecue coals blush at frozen burgers,
There’s a hiss and a fizz and the smell of warm fat,
As recent rain has subdued the carefree mirth of August.

At the Forge, fresh coffee is the siren on the sea breeze,
Wafts up my nostrils, draws me onto the rocky sea wall
Where I watch visitors douse two quid oysters – all slimy and raw,
With cheap tabasco and pungent malt vinegar.
At the Fisherman’s Huts, it’s eau de chien
As a long haired mutt shakes the sea from its fur
And lies on its back in the slanting sun,
Next to a huddle of towels and yesterday’s trainers which still aren’t dry.
Into Sea Street, and it’s vinegary chips in soggy paper,
Stuffed into hungry mouths on damp-bottomed benches.

On the East Quay the asphalt plant grinds stone
And like the blowhole of a whale,
Belches out smoke from hot bitumen.
Ugly silhouettes poke up into an azure sky,
Ghosts of pre-war industry meet the modern world,
Where once coal, grain and timber arrived.
In the Harbour Village, homemade curries tickle my taste buds,
Lime and ginger blur into tomato and garlic,
Sumptuous Greek olives keep Philyra happy
And sweet, syrupy baklava straddles East and West.

On South Quay now, it’s fishy heaven
Unless you’re a snoozing lobster, yanked from a pot.
In the bowels of the harbour the mud quivers
Like brown blancmange with detritus stirred in.
Gill nets, like huge spiders’ webs,
Are hosed and brushed on rotating racks,
Flicking fish tears onto unsuspecting tourists,
While they check departure times for the ‘Greta’.
At the whelk stall, sea treasure in iced crates,
Smelling freshly caught, just not in local waters,
Industry collides with a working harbour,
And economies murmur as much as money smells.

Vicky Newham © 2015


Why I’m doing #NaNoWriMo

It’s the first of November tomorrow and all around the world writers will be starting #NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, that is, rising to the challenge of writing 50,000 words of a new project in the thirty days of the month. For the first time this year I will be joining them. I have toyed with the idea before but the timing has never been right. So, why, this year have I decided to do it?

Having just finished an MA Creative Writing, and spent months bashing away at the assignments for my last two taught modules and days and nights re-writing the creative piece and essay for my dissertation, writing did not feel like fun. Each time I chivvied myself out of bed at Ridiculous O’clock (even the puppy looked shocked) or upstairs to my study after supper instead of watching telly or seeing friends, to re-write yet another section of my work, or to re-read it through yet another time, the Arrrghs! surfaced. I’d also had to study things which, had I been given the choice, I would not have. Were they all good for my writing? Who knows, I hope so. My bêtes noires were literary theory and poetry. Yes, I did spend weeks reading poetry, and weeks writing one tiddly sonnet, villanelle and sestina, and I found them extremely hard. Having to do it bugged the hell out of me, but Sssh! Don’t tell anyone, I actually really like poetry and enjoyed it in a sort of sado-masochistic way, a bit like having to eat spinach all day every day for several weeks (and I like spinach). However, doing it for assessment made it more stressful and took away some of the pleasure.

When I finished my dissertation work I decided that I wanted a few weeks off writing and that I would do #NaNoWriMo for fun. I really enjoy writing the first draft of any story. It is the stage where your imagination can fly free. You get drunk on your story and feel completely obsessed and possessed. Well, I do. When I wrote my first novel I did it via 1,000 words a day, and found that when the scenes were in my head, this was perfectly achievable. Writing a first draft quickly works for me. I get the story out of the murk of my head and onto paper. I can see whether it works or not and what needs doing to make it into a novel.

The dilemma for me has been about what to write. Initially I wanted to use #NaNoWriMo to finish the first draft of the novel I started for my dissertation. I really like this novel and hope that it will make it into print one day. But having re-written it so intensively for my dissertation, I don’t yet feel ready to go back to it. So what I’ve chosen to write comes from an experimental piece I wrote for my course. Having just come back from Harrogate crime writing festival at the time, I wrote a science fiction piece, set in 2030, with crimes in it. I absolutely adored writing it and my tutor was very enthusiastic about it, and said I should turn it into a novel. Initially I just thought, Aw, that’s nice. But the more I thought about the story, the more it captured my imagination. Creating an alternative reality was a lot of fun and extremely liberating after the realism and authenticity required by a police procedural. So, I’ve started the story in a completely different place, and, ta da, am going to attempt to turn it into a novel. If you want to see what the plot is about, this is me on the #NaNoWriMo site: Do add me as a writing buddy.

Writing a novel is, as anyone who has tried it knows, extremely hard. It takes a lot of time and hard work to get the thing right, and good enough to be published. I firmly believe that as much of the process needs to be as enjoyable as possible so that the annoying bits don’t eclipse the whole thing. I know that I’m going to have great fun writing my sci fi crime story. I have the beginning and end mapped out and various chapters and scenes in between. Other than that, I am happy to see where my imagination takes me.

Something else which I think is fabulous about #NaNoWriMo is the ‘community’ aspect: the comraderie and mutual interest and support. Writing is a lonely business. It’s delightful to talk to other writers about their projects and experiences of doing #NaNo. We had a pre-start meet up in Whitstable last Friday, and there was a young girl there who has done it every year since she was fifteen. And met her target. I already know quite a few people from the Kent area who are #NaNo-ing but am looking forward to meeting up with some others.

Something that has made me sad is that people feel the need to sneer at #NaNoWriMo. Some of the sneerers don’t seem to actually know what it involves but some are published authors who seem to feel that the initiative devalues writing, or their writing. Whilst I think that everyone is entitled to their opinion, I also like to try and understand opinions I don’t agree with. The name “National Novel Writing Month” is slightly unhelpful. It does imply that it’s possible to write a novel in a month. But it isn’t a novel. It’s 50,000 words of a first draft of something, written quickly. If people think those raw words are then ready to be uploaded onto Amazon or sent out to agents, of course they’re not. But are people really that naïve? If they are, please direct the comments at those people and not #NaNoWriMo as a whole. However, I have noticed some slightly unkind sneering at aspiring authors in some quarters of publishing, about how deluded some are about how ‘easy’ it is to get published. Really? I don’t know anyone who thinks that. Anyway, back to #NaNoWriMo …. from what I can see, it gets people writing. That’s got to be good, surely? What I am curious about though is why #NaNoWriMo bothers people so much? Are they a teensy weensy bit jealous that people can write 50k words in 30days? Do they write ‘perfect’ first drafts over a long period and object to people who bash out rough ones quickly? Is it writing snobbery? Who knows. Stop sneering, people. You write your book how you want to and let others do the same. Yar? What I think is wonderful is that authors whose novels I read and love are doing #NaNo. Fandabbydozy.

It just remains for me to wish everyone luck. I hope to meet as many of you as possible. See you on The Other Side.

Love Vicky xxx

1 Comment

A lot of love … and laughter

And some gorgeous pieces of beach-inspired art

The Fish-slab gallery, artist run, named as it used to be a fishmongers.

The Fish-slab gallery, artist run, named as it used to be a fishmongers.


Stunning window display

Stunning window display

Earlier in the week I popped into the funky, artist-run Fish-slab art gallery in Whitstable to chat to Martin Pammant and Jan Plaice about their recent exhibition. The majority of the work was Martin’s rustic pieces, created with beachcombed materials and driftwood. Jan had her ‘trademark’ pebbles on display, all painted in striking designs. In addition, she had her most recent creative innovations – canvases. There was also a piece on which they’d collaborated.

Jan and Martin

Jan and Martin


Jan's lovely pebbles

Jan’s lovely pebbles


Their first collaboration: Jan's pebbles in a frame made by Martin

Their first collaboration: Jan’s pebbles in a frame made by Martin

I started off asking them how the exhibition has gone. Straightaway Martin said that it had exceeded all his expectations, that his last exhibition was successful but this one has tripled that. I was interested to know who buys their art. Martin had previously told me that people find out about his work through the internet: Twitter, his website and also through JoJo’s restaurant in Tankerton. From these routes he has contacts in the Midlands and East Anglia, one in Cyprus, as well as Londoners. And also local people. The popularity of Martin’s Kent Beach Art seems to have been reflected in who has visited the gallery. He and Jan told me that a man from Stafford had come down for the weekend with his wife as a surprise: to visit the exhibition. This was someone they’d met via Twitter. They said that local artists have been both encouraging and generous.

I really like the mix of objects in this piece

I really like the mix of objects in this piece of Martin’s


I was interested to know what’s next for them. Martin said, making more pieces. Also that at the moment the balance is 80:20 between his work as a carpenter and his art. He said that ideally he’d like to ‘create’ full time, but a 50:50 balance would suit him. Jan still does some primary school supply teaching, something that she did for 20 years in Northamptonshire before she moved down to Whitstable. She says that whilst she still loves the pupils she is a bit disillusioned with education system [ooh, rings a bell!]. I was fascinated to learn that she is about to start Reiki practitioner training. She says that her approach to life has become more holistic over the years. I commented on her Twitter biography which says ‘making a habit of happiness’. Happiness is something which seems to surround Jan and Martin, and it seeps out of their beautiful creations. They told me how a lady had been in to the gallery and had seen the piece below and had started crying, saying, ‘there’s a lot of love in here’. Aww.

Martin's creations make people cry

Martin’s creations make unsuspecting customers cry

Jan said that her father was very artistic and when she was doing her B.Ed, she’d majored in Art and Design. It was when she moved down to Whitstable to be with Martin, she started painting her pebbles more seriously. Martin has always been creative, he says, and in his work as a carpenter, by doing bespoke work, he’s tried to make it as creative and unique as he could.

Having seen couple co-authors Nicci French and Lars Kepler interviewed at Crimefest, I was curious to know how Jan and Martin find working together, and whether they learn from each other. They agreed that they value each other’s opinions and feedback. They’re able to be honest with each other and take on board suggestions or stick to their guns, whichever feels right. Martin says that Jan give him calmness and Jan learns techniques from Martin. His carpentry helps, for example, he cuts wood by eye.

I was interested to know how they both ended up in Whitstable. Martin grew up in Croydon. When his parents moved to Northamptonshire he followed them up there and stayed there for 20 plus years, then moved to Whitstable and has been in love with place ever since. Jan had known Martin for twenty years. He’d been her son’s football coach but they lost touch. When they met up again they did long distance travelling for a year and then Martin ‘lured’ Jan down to Whitstable.

We then talked about how many artists and creative people live in Whitstable. History tells us they are often drawn to the sea. Martin said they’d been to Cornwall recently and had found it very similar to Whitstable: the sound of the sea, friendly people. They spent the whole time in ‘create’ mode. He said that he thinks what makes the difference is that people have come to Whitstable because they love the place.

It’s always interesting to hear where people get their ideas from so I asked them what comes first the idea or the materials? They both said, the materials. Martin said that he often knows instantly when he picks up a piece of material what it’s going to be. Occasionally a project doesn’t work so he leaves it. For Jan, it’s sensory. She picks each pebble up and walks round with it, rubbing it and touching it. She said that ideas evolve this way. Sometimes she applies the base coat and chooses the colours first and ideas just come. Music inspires her. She said that one day she was listening to a play on Radio 4. It was sad and so her pebble became a sad one. Otherwise she said that she absorbs colour combinations when she’s walking around, for example, the colours in a scarf in a shop. Then she mixes those colours and uses them.

This was the pebble I was drawn to, and bought. It's the heart thing.

This was the pebble I was drawn to, and bought. It’s the heart thing.

I was interested to know which is their favourite piece from their own work, and why. For Jan it’s the second canvas she made in a set of six. The first one was a practice, as it was a new direction for her but she wasn’t sure if she could pull it off but was pleased with the outcome and did five more. For Martin, it’s the ivy tree root. He said he loves the story behind however the root got cut down inland, washed out to sea, stripped of its bark and washed back up on the shore. The plinth in this piece is an old brass chair leg which he found on same day.

The bottom right one is Jan's favourite piece currently

The bottom right one is Jan’s favourite piece currently

Ivy root: Martin's favourite piece.

Ivy root: Martin’s favourite piece.


I asked about the beachcombing and if material comes from any other sources. You can beach comb debris, in fact coast guards often encourage it as it helps to keep the beaches clear and safe. Martin uses old nails, some of these he got from local store, Stocks, who bought up materials from when the old boatyards closed. As most of the stones on our beaches are natural sea defences or have been put in place, Jan’s pebbles aren’t beachcombed, she buys them in specifically for her designs. She said that they need to be the right size and shape to paint.

I asked whether their pieces had reoccurring themes. They both agreed that the main one is love, and although they didn’t say it, it came across that this is love of life, for each other and for their work. Martin said that driftwood unites his pieces, also that he puts his heart and soul into each of them . . . and often blood and skin! The link between love and creativity isn’t new. Some people need it to create, others are most productive without it. Martin seems to fall into the former category, saying how when his father died he couldn’t create for months. He said that his head and heart need to be in right place. They both agreed that they are very sensory and have highly personal work spaces. They surround themselves with photographs, memories and things they love, as these spark off ideas.

Finally, I had to ask them about their studios. Jan has a wooden cabin, with lots of cream and sage green. She’s furnished it with a sofa, and a table by the window, both from her old house in Northampton, and says she does her yoga in there. Martin’s is very different: a vibrant space, and he likes to play loud music. His has a log burner. He says that in the winter Jan sneaks in to his studio to work. I love the idea of the separate studios with the walkway in between.

It was a pleasure chatting to Jan and Martin. I am always interested in, and inspired by, people who are working hard to create something new for themselves, something they’re passionate about and which nourishes them.  It is so fabulous to  pursue a life which involves making things which will give others joy. The fact that their works relates to the sea makes me like it all the more.

Terrier, Crystal ... and some rather nice shoes.

Terrier, Crystal … and some rather nice shoes.


If you want to read more about Jan and Martin, they are in August’s Ideal Home magazine. Martin’s website is here: And below is Jules Roy’s documentary on Martin.

Vicky Newham © 2014


Leave a comment

Whit Lit 2014 – what a way to start!

This weekend saw the inaugural Whitstable Literary Festival – or Whit Lit, as it has been affectionately called. And, wow, what a way to start a festival! It’s been a long time in the planning stages, in the capable hands of Victoria Falconer as Festival Director, Marnie Summerfield Smith and their team.


I can’t comment on the specifics of the whole festival, only the events I attended. What I can say though on a general level is that the buzz around Whit Lit has been incredible. The Horsebridge Centre on the weekend was packed with people attending events, and chatting excitedly on the stairs about what they’d been to or were on their way to. In my Psychology class this morning, before we got stuck into attachment theory, my students were all talking about the wonderful variety of events and how well attended they’d been.

I attended four public events in total. On Friday I went to How to Get Published with two literary agents, Julia Churchill and Joanna Swainson. I knew of both agents from Twitter, and was interested in meeting Joanna as I’d read that she represents various genres of writing and likes crime fiction. I went to a similar talk at the London Book Fair 2013 and so some of the information I knew already but it was an excellent, informative session. I wrote down in my notepad yet again how much of a ‘company’, multi-department decision it is now to publish a book, rather than it being about what an editor likes. I definitely think that an agent is essential in the current publishing climate with ever new forms of rights and royalties requiring negotiation. Julia covered what an agent does and Joanna talked about the submission process.


I was lucky to be invited to the launch drinks on Friday evening in the Somerset Maugham gallery. The atmosphere here was wonderful. Everyone I spoke to was so enthusiastic about the event and full of appreciation and admiration for Victoria and her team for making the festival happen.


On Saturday I was at the Transformers panel, with DE Meredith, Wendy Wallace and Lloyd Shepherd, and Andrew McGuiness as chair.


All three write historical fiction, with Denise and Lloyd doing historical crime fiction. My interest was partially in the crime writing side but also in some of the characteristics and scientific developments of the Regency and Victorian eras which provide the backdrop for all their novels. Funnily enough, the one book I bought wasn’t one of the crime novels. It was Wendy Wallace’s The Painted Bridge. I’d looked up Wendy’s books before the talk and had seen that this book was set in a private asylum for women. As a psychologist this captured my imagination. When Wendy referred to the book as being about ‘woman becoming’ it clinched my purchase.


The three authors each read an excerpt from their books, and described how they perceive their work. They also talked about how they came to start writing and how they approach their novel-writing. Denise talked about the morally driven murders of The Devil’s Ribbon and, this, and its Irish setting, made me add it to my wish list. All three of them came across as really lovely people and I could have listened to them for hours. During questions, I asked the panel whether they plotted their books before writing and it was fascinating to hear how different they all were.

In the evening it was the turn of the Great British Gothic (film) with the Barry Forshaw and Christopher Fowler.


I’ve seen Barry at other events and his knowledge always comes across as encyclopaedic. This was a whistle stop tour through early gothic, with its camp sensibilities, and Hammer films, Frankenstein and the vampire movies. Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing were discussed, also Deborah Carr and Laurence Olivier. Barry mentioned how sex and violence have been linked for decades in films, and how Peter Cushing always played amoral characters. I asked whether films have mixed genres in the way that commercial fiction is increasingly doing. Barry said that genres have to cross-fertilise to survive. I also asked whether technological advances and special effects have enhanced storytelling or sidelined it, and whether storytelling is as important in film as in fiction. They both agreed that the story is key. Phew. Christopher cited Jason and the Argonauts as an example of a film with a great story and fabulous computer generated effects. What was wonderful about this event was that Barry and Christopher clearly share a passion for film, and enjoy talking to each other, as is evident in my photograph of the two of them sharing a joke. I forced myself to choose between Barry’s book on the Gothic film and his one on British Crime films. I opted for this one, as it relates to an essay I’m doing for my MA, on feminist theory and crime drama.


My final event, on Sunday evening, was John Gordon Sinclair – the actor turned crime writer – talking to Andrew McGuiness. John was very funny, and came across as candid, full of insight and passionate about his writing. He said that writing gives him control over what he creates in a way that acting doesn’t, but that when a story comes to mind he sees it as a film in his mind and often acts out scenes in his hut at home at the bottom of the garden (which has a sofa and a fridge, drool). I found it fascinating to hear John discuss some of the themes in his novels and how he likes to explore phenomena, places and experiences which are new to him. His themes include: differing reasons for violence; how our past affects who we become; love; what he calls ‘dark politics’; collusion.


From the brief conversations I’ve had with people about some of the other Whit Lit events, I gather they were a roaring success. Whitstable is definitely a suitable place for a literary festival. With its abundance of creatives and pretty seaside location, I am just surprised that one hasn’t been going here for years. Well, that has been rectified now and I have a feeling that Whit Lit will go from strength to strength. I, for one, will be happy to help out with next year’s and will be buying the full pass rather than individual tickets. As ever at these events, I met in person a number of people whom I ‘know’ from Twitter. In this case it was several fellow Whistabubblians. Aw.

Vicky Newham © 2014