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Reads of 2013

At the end of the year I usually look over the books I’ve read. Life has got in the way of my writing and reading recently, but I’ve read as much as possible. For someone who used to read a book a week, the count is pitiful, but I’ve tried. On the countdown to Christmas I thought I’d post my reads of the last couple of years.

Forty-five books read in 2013, some of which were novellas, and half of one carried over into 2014. Not the ‘improvement’ in the amount I’m reading I had hoped for, but probably better than the year before. I won’t list them all, just mention a few.

I got into the YA zombie books of Jonathan Maberry, and they are surprisingly addictive. In January I must have been in a strange mood because I read nothing but zombie books.

The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst was a bit of a frustrating read for me. One of those books I realised was good once I’d finished it. A glimpse into someone’s life during a set time in that life — I guess that applies to most stories unless following a character from birth unto death, but it felt as if it lacked enough resolution.

One of my favourite books of the year has to be Warm Bodies by Isacc Marion. If you’ve seen the film, or even if you haven’t, read the book. The film is better than I was expecting owing to trailers that led me to think of a YA ‘popcorn’ movie; I feared they had turned the book into a hokey joke. That’s not the case, but it’s a difficult book to put across on the screen because it’s multi-layered. There’s a jokey element to the book, but you quickly start to find little threads of something darker, disturbing, upsetting, and even enlightening. This is not a gory zombie horror book, nor is it a teen rom-com spoof. Hidden within its pages is a celebration of life in all its messiness. Left me smiling and with an immediate desire to read it again. Wish I’d written it. Most unexpected read of the year.

Discovered China Mieville and Perdido Street Station. I’d only read a couple of his short stories before, but am definitely now a reader of his work. I’ve always loved Mervyn Peake’s work and can see why people mention Mieville’s work in the same breath — if you like the richness of Gormenghast then this is the only style I’ve come across that comes close.

I read a few short romance stories in the markets I write for, including m/m. I won’t list them all, but The Blue Moon Cafe by Rick Reed is a good blend of m/m romance, werewolf horror, and homicide suspense.

Caught up on a couple of titles in J.R.Ward series ‘The Brotherhood’. Likewise, still progressing through John Connolly’s work with The White Road, and The Black Angel. Other noteworthy titles were Camp David, by David Walliams, and The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern.

Another discovery was Lois McMaster Bujold with her science fiction book The Warrior’s Apprentice. I immediately set about gathering the rest of her titles and now have them sitting in my TBR mountain. Miles Vorkosigan’s mother was exposed to a poisonous gas during pregnancy. As a result, Miles is short, has brittle bones, and a twisted spine. Despite this, his biggest hurdle is probably a tendency to fling himself head long into crazy situations. I’ve found the first book to be far lighter than I anticipated and yet filled with characters and situations I immediately loved and felt drawn to. From the writing I didn’t immediately know a woman had written these. There’s also something of ‘nostalgic’ sci-fi about them, the sort of space opera that even puts me to mind of Blake’s 7, although with a far more humourous edge.

In July, I began reading Iain Banks. I was shocked to hear of his death, and a couple of his books had been sitting on my shelves for at least two years. I wasn’t sure what I thought of The Wasp Factory, but I’ve since picked up more of his books and will keep reading. The story is about Frank, a 16 year old living in a remove Scottish village. He has a strange family, and the most peculiar tendencies towards violence, which he manages to justify in his own warped way of thinking. I found the whole book ‘peculiar’ and would love to know how the author came up with such a strange and wonderfully twisted idea. Nothing like I imagined it would be. He’s a writer I admire because (he has said) he wasn’t getting far with what he wanted to write so he reinvented himself; judging by his works, he as good as created his own genre.

The Last Kind Words, by Tom Piccirilli was an absorbing read by a writer who has shown as much courageousness in his own life recently as he has in his writing. (Note: Since I wrote this, alas Tom lost his fight with brain cancer and is another great loss to the writing world.) I came across him many years ago when I was a fledgling writer and his small book ‘Welcome to Hell’ warned me what I was in for.

Another writer we sadly lost recently was James Herbert, and so I read the last of his works: Ash. I was reading James when I was teen, and he’s been something of a comfortable and familiar British institution.

Pradee by fellow Musa author Clarissa Johal wasn’t what I expected. Her tale of ‘critters’ accused of poisoning one of the Elders in their village sets them in search of an artifact that allows one to see the past and change the future…but should they use it? I can see why the write up for the book refers to the tradition of The Dark Crystal by Jim Henson and Frank Oz. I felt it could do with a slight tidy, but was otherwise delightful and has great potential. Should be in the hands of a large children’s publisher.

One of my favourite authors is Christopher Moore, and I added another of his titles to my ‘read’ pile with Fluke — an amusing and surprising tale/tail that takes the reader beneath the sea. His work is zany in an intelligent way. All his books have his familiar style yet in another sense they could be called multi-genre as one may be about god, whales, zombies, or some voodoo queen on a mysterious isle. You kind of have to appreciate touches of Douglas Adams to like C.Moore. Fluke is about marine behavioural biologist, Nate Quinn, and begins on the day he sees a whale lift its tail to reveal the words ‘Bite Me’ on its flukes. It completely had me going and guessing and even when I thought I had it figured out, the truth was even more bizarre. Great fun.

I’ve loved The Dark Tower series by Stephen King; however, while The Wind Through the Keyhole was a pleasant read, but I cannot say it adds to the series in any particular way. One for the fans of Roland’s quest.

I picked up a signed copy of The Winter Ghosts, by Kate Mosse and was really looking forward to it. I admire the weaving of this tale from the research, but it felt too short, and from the blurb I expected something with more emotional attachment and just ‘bigger’ somehow. Don’t think I’m giving much away to say pleasant, somewhat historically interesting, but lightweight ghost story. A case of the blurb outshining the contents more than a little, making for higher expectations.

I finished the year and began the next with Under The Dome, by Stephen King It’s the sort of book he does so well and the perfect example of why I don’t think of him as a horror writer. His books are very character driven and apart from the paranormal aspect of this book (the dome itself) it’s very mainstream. The internal politics of the town, the way some characters hold it together in the face of adversity or turn on each other, even commit murder was very well done. It’s a lovely piece of writing. I was impressed with the research and then laughed when King admits in the back that he asked someone to help him with that. Anyone who likes crime or mysteries might also like this book. I was a little disappointed in the ’cause of the dome’ but I couldn’t see any other possible explanation he could have used. King tends to say some stories are about the journey rather than the destination, and I agree. This is all about the people in the town. Having since seen the first two episodes of the series, my advice is read the book.

So You Want to be a Writer

I’ve been asked a few questions on how to write, or what it’s like to be a writer, so I intend to includ the occasional post in an attempt to answer the impossible. Just like marketing, what applies to one person, won’t be relevant to another, though some things are common to all. So for a first ‘you want to be a writer’ blog…

Don’t. Go and do something else. Anything else. Go and do something less soul-destroying.

Still here? Good.

That’s 50% of the battle won. Now I’m going to contradict myself and say if you want to write, if you possess any ability, it’s one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do. Also, one of the hardest.

Writing is WORK. Anyone ever tells you a different story doesn’t know what he or she is talking about. The task should be, and is, fun. Equally, it’s a job.

Publishing is a chore, and may influence the decision to continue as a hobby writer or to try for publication. The option of self-publishing exists these days, and there can be reasons for careful consideration, but that’s a separate subject. Hardly anything worthwhile in life is easy, and even when published, the hard work never ceases, doesn’t get any easier. No one throws rose petals at your feet. In the decade of the internet troll, you’re more likely to find manure tossed into your path. I’m not joking. Go read a few reviews of classic well-loved books and soak up the vitriol. No matter how successful, or good someone may be in any field, unwarranted abuse is guaranteed.

Some may be reading with a frown, images of Diane Keaton sitting in front of a large desk, a panoramic view of the beach through the window dancing in their heads (trust me, Something’s Gotta Give may have been a good film, but it did nothing to give a realistic outlook of what it is to be a writer). Some reading this blog will be thinking of J.K. and a certain wizard, the author sweeping down a red carpet at a London première of a blockbuster made from one of her publications. This kind of success ‘can’ occur, but ask any novelist if life started out that way and they’ll tell you a very different story. King remembers  deciding whether to buy medicine for his child or to pay the telephone bill. He rightly chose the medication. Many authors understand poverty — poverty may have even been one of the things to push them, kept them going when refusal and harsh words made them wonder why they were putting themselves through the suffering.

That’s the problem with writing: heartache is involved. Rejection. Edits. Reviews. A writer runs the gamut of emotions at every level, and even when they achieve a flourishing career, the despondency doesn’t cease unless one learns how to cope. Maybe not even then. Writers are risk-takers. They risk rejection every day.

Hearing all this, you may well ask if writing is worth the time and effort, or a mug’s game. It depends on opinion but, alas, some restrictions to the industry bode ill and creates angst for novelists, editors, publishers, and agents alike, most of which the majority of readers remain unaware. First-time writers often learn the hard way.

If you have ever heard someone of an older generation say, ‘If only I knew back then what I know now’ you will recognise the true meaning of the adage after writing for a few months, when ready to submit.

To simplify: if this is only a passing fancy, you don’t adore books, and you aren’t one of those who understand that writers write because they ‘have to’ rather than want to, I advise to go find a less distressing occupation. If you’re someone who cannot envision a life without writing, then jump right in with the rest of the wonderful crazy authors who create magical worlds, entertain us, and make us question life by turns. It’s good to be here.