INTERVIEW: NOIR AT THE BAR ANTHOLOGY | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Newcastle’s Noir at the Bar, which celebrates crime writing with live readings and social gatherings, has been on quite a journey. From the first Noir at the Bar event at the Town Wall Cinema Room on in June 2016, to weekly Virtual Noir at the Bar sessions on Wednesday evenings during lockdown. Organiser Victoria Watson is now looking to unveil a new anthology of stories by crime writers from all over the UK and abroad, including authors based here in the North East.

It’s an ambitious project, made possible by the enthusiasm of the writers involved and the experience of Simon Bewick, a crime novel fan and writer, who’s recently returned to the North East after a long career in digital marketing for a large publisher. “Producing a book in six weeks is no mean feat,” explains Simon. “Having worked in publishing for 25 years, I have never known a project go from conception to publication in less than two months, which is our timetable.”

The collection embraces the spirit of Noir at the Bar itself – a mixture of well-established authors – including Zoe Sharp; Neil Broadfoot (shortlisted for the prestigious Deanston Scottish Crime Book of the Year Award and the Dundee International Book Prize); Philippa East, author of Little White Lies ‘the most unputdownable and thrilling debut of 2020’; Roz Watkins (CWA debut shortlisted and Times Crime Book of the Month) and Margaret Kirk (Good Housekeeping Novel Writing winner), as well as up-and-coming newer authors.

The collection is the epitome of what Noir at the Bar has always been about: “Very inclusive, no snobbery,” as Simon puts it. The ‘normal’ events cater to a maximum of 65 people, and Vic recognises that it’s more intimate than the larger festivals. “There’s always a really good mix of writers and readers. Everyone is really into crime fiction and really friendly. With two or three intervals, it’s a really informal night, with plenty of opportunity to chat to the people who’ve stood up and read. Crime writers are always very approachable, and you get to hear new writers you’ve not heard of before.”

The collection is the epitome of what Noir at the Bar has always been about: “Very inclusive, no snobbery,”

The worldwide Noir in the Bar initiative began in Philadelphia in 2008 thanks to international crime fiction buff and editor Peter Rosovsky. Having been a fan and writer of crime fiction for a long time herself, Vic had already built up a network on Twitter and from attending festivals and events when she was talked into organising Noir at the Bar in Newcastle. It’s that strong network that made the transition to online as successful as it was when lockdown was announced in March. “Within one week, people were there,” Simon enthuses. “That wouldn’t have happened without the interest that Vic had already built up with the physical version of Noir at the Bar.”

Virtual Noir at the Bar started two months ago, and the response has been phenomenal with over 300 subscribers in the first three weeks, full session attendance and over 1,000 views of previous shows. Vic’s objective was clear: “I know lots of people will be missing Noir at the Bar, book launches and literary festivals so I teamed up with Simon to bring Noir at the Bar straight to your home… OK, so you’ll need to bring your own booze but it beats another night of flicking through the TV looking for something half decent to watch.”

Although weekly online events are a massive commitment for the pair to organise and pull off, the response has been overwhelming. “For some, it’s the only time in the week they know which day of the week it is,” says Vic, “and to know people are joining us from New Zealand where it’s 6.30am is incredible.” Their aim is to make Virtual Noir at the Bar interactive and as much like the live events as they can with breaktime quizzes, book giveaways, virtual recordings afterwards, competitions and chatroom activity.

So why an anthology, and how did that become the next step?

When Simon suggested an anthology to Victoria, she’d already been thinking along the same lines. She’d heard fans of crime fiction saying they were blitzing through books and box sets and looking for new things to do with their time. And as much as readers would welcome new material from their favourite authors and fresh voices with open arms, writers would also appreciate the opportunity to share their work in this way.

Victoria describes the anthology (and Virtual Noir at the Bar) as a COVID-free zone, although all profits will go to the NHS. With a bar/pub setting as a general guideline, 90% of the material has been especially written for this project. “The unquestioning response to the request has been amazing,” explains Simon. “We’ve both been bowled over by everyone’s willingness to be involved and we hope we can get it out to a wide enough audience to provide some support for those working under current conditions on the frontline.”

Some of the people who’ve read at the Noir at the Bars actually volunteer or work for the NHS, so they’re very keenly aware of what’s going on.” Victoria adds.

Alongside her nine-month-old child, Vic considers this anthology her baby. Borne out of this unprecedented crisis, it’s a great souvenir of a time when noir became the norm.

Noir at the Bar anthology will be available on Kindle from 10th June, with a paperback version due soon after

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