Read Regional: South Shields

Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside. Having grown up by the gorgeous sands of Redcar and now living too far away from the sea, I relish any chance to sit on a beach and watch the waves.  So I made sure that I arrived at South Shields in South Tyneside early so I could have a look a round the town and a paddle and a chippy tea on the sand.

On the way to the beach I also discovered the South Shields Museum and Art Gallery. Its current exhibition ‘King Coal’ (on until 29th September) is a fascinating  celebration of the mining heritage of South Tyneside.  I regretted not arriving even earlier as I would love to have visited the town’s Roman fort too – but that will have to wait til next time.

My author talk was part of the WRITE Festival held this year from 12 – 25 May, with lots of exciting events including, still to come, Jenn Ashworth on 22nd May, a poetry slam on the 24th and an evening with journalist Kevin Maguire on the 25th.

My event was at The Word, a stunning library and cultural venue which in addition to being a beautifully designed building filled with amazing resources is also currently top of my list of ‘best library ceilings’.

The lights even change colour at different times of the day. There is also has an open roof top area with gorgeous views of the Tyne.  Current exhibitions in the centre include a centenary anniversary celebration of South Shields poet James Kirkup, the fab ‘Monsters: the good the bad and the cuddly’ and ‘Lost Dialects’ which explores the ‘lost words of the North East Dialect’, words that are slowly disappearing from everyday conversations.

South Shields word wallI loved reading the local words that people had tied up on the wall, and the memories and anecdotes attached to them. I added  ‘croggy’ – a hitched ride on another person’s bicycle crossbar, which has always been a debated word in our house as my husband, who’s from Merseyside calls it a ‘seater’.

It was a good and lively author event with a great audience who asked lots of questions and then afterwards got stuck into my Literary Quiz. In addition to questions on missing words, quotations and General (Book) Knowledge, I also included the following ‘Tyne and Wear Lit’ round. Answers ar at the bottom of this post.

1. Which comic magazine was founded in Newcastle in 1979 by Chris Donald who has said that part of the reason for choosing its name was because its three letters are made up of straight lines, which were easy to carve out of the cork tile he used for printing?

2.  The children’s book ‘Skellig’, first published in 1998 and winner of the Whitbread Children’s Book of the Year and the Carnegie Medal, was the debut novel by which Newcastle -born writer?

3.  Which of these is NOT a title in Catherine Cookson’s Mallen Trilogy:

a) The Mallen Streak      b) The Mallen Girl

c) The Mallen Monster   d) The Mallen Litter

4.  Which Ukrainian-born author, best known for the novel that inspired the film ‘Apocalypse Now’, served onboard the Tyne collier ‘Skimmer of the Sea’ in the 1870s?

5.  Which comedian and quiz show host became the president of the Lit and Phil Library in Newcastle in 2011?

6.  Who is the author of the series of crime novels, featuring DCI Kate Daniels and set in the North East, which include ‘The Murder Wall’, ‘Gallows Drop’ and ‘Settled Blood’?

7.  ‘An Agreement of the People of England’ a manifesto for constitutional change published during the English Civil Wars, was co-written by which Sunderland-born radical and Leveller?

It was a close competition and the winners won a hardback novel by local author (and Celebrity Mastermind winner) Ann Cleeves.

One of the questions that I was asked in the Q&A part of my talk was about using real places and people in fiction. The Companion is set in a fictional location but it is very much inspired by a real place. I was asked if I was worried that local people might be upset about my portrayal of the area or cross if I’ve got facts wrong.  I admitted that it had concerned me that not only do many people have a lot more knowledge than I did  about the history of the valley in which The Companion is set, but also there are lots who have strong family links to it.  I did a lot of research to get my facts right, and I made sure that the story element, and the characters entwined in it were all fictional, even though I drew on the history of a real place for the setting. In my next novel, set in 1920s Manchester one of the characters is a real person.  In addition to my research on the period I have also read everything I can about him, to make sure I portray him accurately and fairly.  I also have, as a reminder, a picture of him watching over me as I write!

Peacock obit Police Review cropped


The next stop on The Companion‘s Read Regional tour is Doncaster on Thursday 24th May. I will be meeting and talking to readers at the Central Library as part of the town’s ‘Turn the Page’ Festival.



Quiz Answers: 1. VIZ   2. David Almond  3. The Mallen Monster   4. Joseph Conrad          5.  Alexander Armstrong  6. Mari Hannah  7. John Lilburne


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