So here I am again. This time last year I was sure that 2017 was going to be The Big Year of Getting Somewhere. I was sure I’d have an agent, and a publishing date, and that if I didn’t have those things then it would feel like a wasted year. I wanted tangible milestones to prove to myself that I was progressing. None of that happened, of course, but it doesn’t feel like a wasted year.
I began contacting agents in November, so of course I haven’t heard back yet. The rest of the year I spent working super super hard to make Hold Back the Night better. I also rewrote another draft of Harriet Starling. Considering I was working full-time, I produced a massive amount of work.
And now I’m quite tired. I’ve spent the first weeks of this year watching inordinate amounts of television, and I’ve also decided to do the 100 submissions challenge. I’ve already submitted to 6 journals/competitions. Last year, I submitted 8 times overall so this is quite an improvement. I am, as the challenge says, going to collect rejections. It feels a little like adding bricks to a mesh net hanging over my head, hoping I can avoid getting hit when it falls apart, but hey, it’s a different kind of work compared to last year.
So for 2018, I’m meandering through a third draft of Harriet, I’m working on my query letter and synopsis for the next round of agent submissions for Hold Back the Night, and I’m reading old stories and trying to improve them, word by word, so that I can find a home for them. I’m ticking things off slowly, between episodes of The Good Wife (and my actual job), and watching that basket of bricks swinging over my head. How many more can it take? I’m hoping as the rejections fall in and I resubmit and resubmit, the load will become lighter. By December, they will be bricks made of foam that simply bounce to the ground, ready for me to throw back up in the air. And who knows, maybe one will turn to sparkles and cover me in glittery dust.
I reread a lot of books this year. Mainly it was old favourites and I was trying to figure out what made them so good (turning reading into learning, fun!). I also started off the year by reading a lot of non-fiction, which is unusual for me but turned out great. I then ended the year on a more commercial note, when I just needed something to look forward to in the evenings when my brain didn’t want to work.
I’ve already written about some of the best books, this is the whole list (not including Harry Potter x 2.3 times). This year, with stars!
- Oranges are not the only fruit by Jeanette Winterson ****
- Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald****
- Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert ***
- Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance *****
- 117 days by Ruth First **** After finishing this I was determined to read more about South Africa. That didn’t happen, but there’s still time!
- The year of magical thinking by Joan Didion *****
- When will there be good news? By Kate Atkinson *** I think Kate Atkinson is great. So readable but not trashy at all.
- Blue nights by Joan Didion ****
- Dreams from my father by Barack Obama ****
- The caged virgin by Ayaan Hirsi Ali ****
- Stet by Diana Athill ***
- Born to run by Christopher McDougall ***
- Do no harm by Henry Marsh *** This is from the eighties, an account of being a neurosurgeon in Britain. It is interesting, and was a bit of a silly choice to read after my operation.
- The husband’s secret by Liane Moriarty ***
- Trio by Sue Gee **
- Revolutionary road by Richard Yates **** I knew this story from the movie, but the book is so well written it didn’t matter. Unlikable characters but in such interesting ways.
- Good me, bad me by Ali Land ***
- Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout *****
- The English patient by Michael Ondaatje ****
- Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee *****
- Pride and prejudice by Jane Austen *****
- The blackwater lightship by Colm Toibin *****
- Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum *** A reworking of Anna Karenina apparently, which I didn’t realise until the end. Loved about the first two thirds of it.
- On Chesil beach by Ian McEwan ***
- Station eleven by Emily St John Mandel *****
- The tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte***
- The light between oceans by M.L. Stedman ***
- Blindness by Jose Saramago *****
- Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey *****
- Conversations with friends by Sally Rooney ****
- The futures by Anna Pitoniak ***
- The naïve and the sentimental novelist by Orhan Pamuk ****
- The circle by David Eggers ***
- Wishful drinking by Carrie Fisher ***
- Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote ***
- Commonwealth by Ann Patchett **** Loved this, one of the highlights of the year. A perfect opening scene. I need more Patchett in my life.
- Reading like a writer by Francine Prose ****
- Abide with me by Elizabeth Strout ****
- The magician’s assistant by Ann Patchett ***
- The Tomorrow Series by John Marsden ****
- Swimming home by Deborah Levy *** I’ve been wanting to read this for a long time, but it was a bit disappointing. The mysterious quirky loner girl trope is a bit old, even though it was written so well.
- Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas ***
- Only daughter by Anna Snoekstra **
- Sense and sensibility by Jane Austen ***
- Frog music by Emma Donoghue **** I don’t usually read historical fiction, but I love Donoghue and this novel set in San Francisco around a 19th century murder was great.
- The misunderstanding by Irene Nemirovsky ***
- Negotiating with the dead by Margaret Atwood ***
- The Martian by Andy Weir ***
- Position doubtful by Kim Mahood ***** Very interesting thoughts about land and life and connections in Australia.
- Big little lies by Liane Moriarty ***
- Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout ***** The perfect novel.
- Hidden figures by Margot Lee Shetterly **** I saw the movie of this first, and then got annoyed when I read the book and realised how much had been unnecessarily changed. The writing style is very casual and a bit funny – like an aunt’s diary – but the amount of information is amazing. Also, I didn’t realise just how complicated segregation and its removal was.
- The wonder by Emma Donoghue ***
- Quartet by Jean Rhys ***
- The dry by Jane Harper ****
- The point by Marion Halligan *** I wanted to like this because it was set in Canberra, but Halligan fell for the 90s/early noughties fashion of not using speech marks, so I spent a lot of time being annoyed that I couldn’t follow who was speaking.
- The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel ***
- The good son by Paul McVeigh ****A boy growing up in Belfast during the Troubles. Often compared to Roddy Doyle, but I found it better – more sympathetic and genuine, with less caricatures.
- The end of Eddy by Edouard Louis ***** I’ve been wanting to read this all year and it didn’t disappoint. Northern French working-class boy, gay, trying to figure out the endless violence and apathy around him.
Lists from other years are here.