2017

In 2016 I self-published a novel I had been working on for years. It was mainly so that I could finally count the book as ‘finished’, and commit publicly to this writing life. It is harder to be lazy when people you know and love think you spend all your time writing.

A Perilous Margin is still available on kindle on all amazons, and in paperback through amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

In 2017, I am going to try the traditional publishing route again. I spent the first days of the year reading publishing advice, writing advice, agent-seeking advice, and was filled with the intense need to make this part of my life. There is nothing else I want to do and so my options are limited. That might be a good thing.

I have never felt so close to publication, or so ready. I feel like all the work for the last nine years is finally paying off and I am this close! I have sent my new manuscript off for an assessment by an editor and I am terrified equally by the thought that it’s rubbish, and that it’s good. Our dreams are scuppered by fear of success as often as fear of failure, apparently, and I am trying desperately not to let that happen.

So, 2017, if in 351 days I still have no agent and no sign that anything is moving forward, I’m going to be very angry.

In the mean time, these are the potential novels I’m working on, because I’ve discovered that making things public is a good way of committing to them.

  • Still Life (working title)

A young woman takes a year off after university to learn how to be the carefree, easy-going bohemian she has always thought she could be. Months of partying hard allow her to break out of her shell, but one disastrous and damaging night makes her reconsider the person she is becoming.

  • Harriet Starling (working title/name of the main character because I haven’t thought of anything else)

A former sex-worker turned women’s right activist is caught off-guard by her daughter’s approaching adolescence, and struggles to teach her to deal with the common juxtaposition of sexual freedom and sexual violence.

  • How to build a temple (working title)

Tabitha, a twelve year old girl whose friends have disowned her, helps her mother build a temple in their backyard to compensate for the fact that she can’t afford to travel to Thailand on a life-changing spiritual journey.

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Fun?

I sent a manuscript to an editor this wcaution-fun-aheadeek. There is a great service where, for a hefty price, you can get professional feedback. No one has read this manuscript. It is of a fairly personal nature and so the thought of anyone I know critiquing it is uncomfortable, to say the least. But a stranger? I’ll have me some of that.

The thing is, when you have been polishing and polishing and polishing something for a long time, and then you let it go, everything else tends to look a bit shit. I was excited about getting back to work on something I haven’t looked at since July, but on opening the document my heart sank. It’s not very good. Which doesn’t mean it can’t be, but my god the WORK still to do! It’s endless!

So instead of facing that uphill battle immediately, I started something new, because having three unfinished novels going at once clearly isn’t enough. This one, I hope, might be fun. I’m not very good at fun, in general but particularly with regards to writing. I’m not a fun writer. After the personal, slightly tormented slog of the current one (last one? I’m not sure what to call it since it doesn’t have a proper name yet), it would be really good to write something enjoyable. Characters I can laugh with would be nice. We’ll just have to wait and see if the personality make-over is successful though, or if on re-drafting all the fun disappears.

 

2016 reading list

I read some great books this year but all up it was a slightly scatty, underwhelming year. For the first time in a long time I found myself finishing books and not knowing what to read next, which lead to starting and stopping many books I would normally enjoy simply because I was not prepared for them.

  • The lost dog – Michelle de Kretser
  • Boyhood island – Karl Ove Knausguaard

The third and most disappointing of the My Struggle series.

  • We need to talk about Kevin – Lionel Shriver

I’ve been meaning to read this for a long time and it didn’t disappoint. There were many lines that struck me, in particular: “To answer one life with a successive life is simply to transfer the onus of purpose to the next generation; the displacements amounts to a cowardly and potentially infinite delay.” Controversial, but it struck a chord with me.

  • Catcher in the rye – J.D. Salinger
  • Snow – Orhan Pamuk
  • Adela Pankhurst: the wayward suffragette – Verna Coleman
  • An evil cradling – Brian Keenan

Keenan’s experience as a hostage in Lebanon in the eighties. A story that I was too young to know about at the time but which I now find incredible.

  • Why I am not a Christian – Bertrand Russell
  • Story of the lost child – Elena Ferrante
  • Persuasion – Jane Austen

Forever my favourite Austen.

  • Climbing the coconut tree – S.C. Karakaltsas
  • A spool of blue thread – Anne Tyler
  • Divergent – Veronica Roth
  • Room – Emma Donoghue

A highlight of the year. So absorbing that my 30 minute train trip just didn’t feel long enough.

  • Sparrow migrations – Cari Noga

Another highlight and comforting that it started as a self-published novel. Several stories linked by the Hudson river crash and sparrows.

  • The strays – Emily Bitto
  • Hideous kinky – Esther Ford

I read this while we were in Morocco, which felt fitting. Told from the point of view of a child whose mother is a wandering hippy on the Moroccan trail in the seventies.

  • Great expectations – Charles Dickens
  • All the light we cannot see – Anthony Doerr

Every time I read a story about the second world war I think I can’t possibly read another one that sheds more light, and yet I do. There are so many nuanced experiences outside those of the camps and they continue to intrigue me.

  • The door – Magda Szabo

I found this on a list of best translated fiction. It’s incredible and Emerence is a character I’ll never forget. See the New Yorker article here.

  • Why not me? – Mindy Kaling
  • Not that kind of girl – Lena Dunham
  • 20 fragments of a ravenous youth – Xiaolu Guo
  • Silas Marner – George Eliot

I was only disappointed that this was so short. It is an incredibly succinct story of the interweaving of lives and how we see people.

  • The garden of evening mists – Tan Twan Eng

I wanted to love this, and the second world war information about Malaysia was interesting but the actual writing I found over the top.

  • First love, last rights – Ian McEwan
  • The history of love – Nicole Krauss
  • A little life – Hanyu Yanagihara

Everything is just so big in this novel. The violence is nauseating and the characters often frustrating, but it is a must-read.

  • Insurgent – Veronica Roth
  • Still Alice – Lisa Genova
  • The wandering falcon – Jamil Ahmad
  • A god in ruins – Kate Atkinson
  • Olive Kitteridge – Elizabeth Strout

Elizabeth Strout was the best thing about this year! I feel like I’m lowered into her novels in a glass sphere, the characters are so real that it is easy to believe I am simply visiting them for a time.

  • Purple hibiscus – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Anne of Green Gables – Lucy Maud Montgomery
  • The Burgess boys – Elizabeth Strout
  • The eye of the sheep – Sofie Laguna
  • North and south – Elizabeth Gaskell

 

  • Farewell to the East End – Jennifer Worth
  • Dark places – Gillian Flynn
  • In the woods – Tana French
  • The girls – Emma Cline

I kept seeing this on lists of books to read in 2016, so I did. It’s a fictionalised account of the Manson murders, and it was engaging until the writing style got a bit much. Still, an amazing debut.

  • Emma – Jane Austen
  • Notes on a scandal – Zoe Heller

The best unreliable narrator I’ve ever read. Completely fascinating.

  • A murder is announced – Agatha Christie
  • Dancing in the dark – Karl Ove Knausguaard

Fourth in the series and it made me look forward to the fifth. I’m a fan once again.

  • Moments of reprieve – Primo Levi
  • Waiting for the barbarians – J.M. Coetzee
  • The lonely city – Olivia Laing

The third of Laing’s books, and I loved it. Non-fiction about how loneliness informed the art of artists including Edward Hopper. Heart-breaking and optimistic at the same time.

  • My name is Lucy Barton – Elizabeth Strout
  • Slammerkin – Emma Donoghue

I’m not usually one for historical fiction but this was great. Three years of a teenage girl’s life as she goes from prostitution in London to servitude in a Welsh country house.

  • Amy and Isabelle – Elizabeth Strout
  • Reckoning – Magda Szubanski
  • A streetcat named Bob – James Bowen
  • And all of Harry Potter, of course.

See previous years’ lists here.