Finished Draft 1 of 'The Quest of The Summer King' and sent it off to its Alpha Reader
Started the edits of 'The Mermaid'
Interviewed on BBC Essex about 'Max, The Brightlingsea Cat'
Was approached to write another picture book
Have already completed this year's reading challenge, so this month was spent catching up on some of the reviews I needed to write and working my way through some of the books I added to the TBR pile in 2023.
I made the 'mistake' of trying to get myself organised for the start of 2024 and realised quite how quickly the edits for 'The Mermaid' need to be done, so panicked myself a bit, as I know I never get anything done over Christmas. However, rather than flap and end up getting nothing done, instead I decided to focus on doing lots of the other little jobs that I knew would need doing so that they were out of the way. This means that once my time becomes my own again, I can focus solely on the edits, rather than trying to juggle lots of different balls at the same time. I have also realised that I am much more disciplined about my writing when I set myself specific targets, rather than vague ones of 'I'd like to get this finished by X date'. The same applies to my planning. Although I like to just get going when I start writing a new book, I've worked out that I'm much more productive and it requires far less editing when I have the whole thing planned out properly from the beginning. This is a huge departure from how I wrote a few years ago, when I was much more of a pantser!
Consequently, this year I'm going to give myself some proper planning time before I start trying to write the next book and then set a manageable target for getting the first draft done. We'll see how I get on! This year, making myself accountable by setting out my goals helped to make sure I achieved most of them (where I didn't, it was a conscious choice not to, rather than just because I didn't get them done), so hopefully the new approach will increase my productivity and lower my stress levels in the process!
In terms of my reading, in spite of having decided not to set myself a numerical target this year, I've read more books than ever! 302 was my final tally for the year - this is in part because of including audiobooks for the first time, but also because the sheer number of audiobooks I've listened to dramatically increased this year because of the amount of driving I've been doing over the last few months.
The Riviera Express - T P Fielden (Part of the Classic Crime series. Apparently, there are more with the same characters and I might look them out when my TBR pile is a bit smaller. Very much of its time.)
The Daughters of Time - Josephine They (Injured police officer decides to investigate the case of the Princes in the Tower, looking at the evidence to see if it points to Richard III. It was interesting to see how they evaluated the evidence and the conclusion they came to.)
Murder at Merewood Hospital - Michelle Salter (Read for Review. By the author of the Iris Woodmore series I've been reviewing this year. Enjoyed this very much. Full review to follow as part of the blog tour on 15th January 2024)
The Mystery Guest - Nita Prose (Read for Review. Was invited to review this and was delighted to accept, given how much I'd enjoyed Book One. Thoroughly good follow up. Full review can be found here.)
The Conference of the Birds - Ransome Riggs (Audiobook. Fifth instalment in the Miss Peregrine series. These get darker as the series goes on and by moving the action into America, the second trilogy adds an extra dimension as well as extra peril to the story.)
The Silver Road - Sinéad O'Hart (Saw this advertised on Twitter, where it was being promoted as ideal for those who liked 'The Dark Is Rising'. As soon as I saw that, I knew I needed to read it. It certainly lived up to its billing, drawing on Irish mythology for the plot. Definitely one I'll be recommending to my son.)
The Desolations of Devil's Acre - Ransome Riggs (Audiobook. The final instalment of the Miss Peregrine series brings everything to a head. Caul is back with a vengeance and is out for revenge on both his sister and Jacob. Meanwhile, the Peculiar Children are trying to find a way to defeat him and all their hopes are pinned on the prophecy of the Light-Eaters. Fitting end to a series I have thoroughly enjoyed.)
The Couple at No.9 - Claire Douglas (Book Group Pick. Murder mystery that strikes very close to home. Bog standard thriller that added an extra dimension to the plot with a very last minute twist that was wholly unexpected.)
Her Little Secret - Julia Stone (Successfully mixes Julia's background in psychology etc with her talent as a writer to create a memorable set of characters who explore the perils of therapists who don't respect the boundaries between themselves and their clients. Spotted the twist before it came, but didn't spoil my enjoyment of the book.)
Velda the Awesomest Viking and the Voyage of Deadly Doom - David McPhail (Audiobook. Arthur enjoyed this one much more than I did - after all, I am not the target audience. However, I did like the fact that there was an all female Viking crew and that Velda refused to conform to the role society had allotted her.)
Velda the Awesomest Viking and the Enormous Frost Giants - David McPhail (Audiobook. Another one that Arthur enjoyed more than I did. The second in the series sees Velda taking on a new enemy in the form of fearsome frost giants, who turn out not to be so fearsome once Velda gets going.)
The Secret Life of Bees - Sue Monk Kidd (Set against the backdrop of poverty and racism in Civil Rights era America, this books uses the analogy of life in a hive to reflect on the behaviour of humans. Whilst the threat to black men and women is ever present and acts as a catalyst for a couple of the main events, it is predominantly through the naivety of the narrator and the more subtle racism of those around her, that these threats result in an increasingly ominous atmosphere.)
The Island of Missing Trees - Elif Shafak (Set in Cyprus and England, much of the action takes place during the civil unrest of the 1970s, this is a Romeo and Juliet style story, but with a slightly happier ending. This isn't a conflict I know anything about, but the book made me want to learn more about it, particularly the role Britain played in it.)
Clairmont - Lesley McDowell (Read For Review). Tells the story of the famous trip to Italy by the Shelleys and Lord Byron, but focuses on the lesser known parties who were present, particularly Claire Clairmont, who was the muse of both Shelley and Byron, as well as being Mary Shelley's stepsister. Full review can be found here.)
City of Girls - Elizabeth Gilbert (Audiobook. Tells the story of Vivienne, a somewhat naive girl and her life in New York before and during WW2. She is completely flawed and utterly human, as is every single character who surrounds her. Really looked forward to listening to this book, particularly as it is addressed to 'Angela' and who Angela is, does not become clear until late in the book.)
Lust, Caution - Eileen Chang ( Compiltion of short stories set in China and Hong Kong. The first, which tells the tale of a reluctant honey-trap assassin, was my favourite of the collection. It was interesting to examine the cultural differences in the stories themselves and to see the distinctive style of the author's writing.)
Don't Look Now - Daphne du Maurier (Collection of short stories, of which the title one was again my favourite. Classic du Maurier in style and consequently, well worth reading.)
Titanic - Rupert Matthews (Factual account of the sinking of the great liner. Not really any new information, but this is due to the sheer number of documentaries I've watched and books I've read on this subject recently, not to any lack of information in this particular book.)
Piglet - Lottie Hazell (This made me cross and made me laugh by turns. Full review can be found here.)
So Late in the Day - Claire Keegan (Short but not sweet, but still worth reading. 'What if' story about whether male-female relationships are inevitably doomed to fail because of the thoughtlessness of one party and the intolerance of the other.)
Oryx and Crake - Margaret Attwood (Audiobook. All too real-feeling examination of a dystopian future where human evolution is mapped out without people even realising it was happening. A conspiracy theorist's delight.)
The Golden Notebook - Doris Lessing (Wasn't sure about this one to start with, but by the halfway mark I'd got into it a bit more. It took me quite a while to read as it's not one you can speed-read. Definitely preferred the 'present day' parts of the book to the notebooks, but by the end I was invested enough to care about what happened to all the characters, not just the 'real' ones of the current events. The main issue I had with it was the constant flipping about with the timeline so I was never quite sure where people were and what they were doing.)
Book of the Month?
This month, I think 'City of Girls' has to be my pick for the book of the month because I found myself speeding up the audio so I got through the story quicker because I wanted to know what was going to happen. Vivienne is not the kind of person I would generally sympathise with, but I completely did and the fact she won me over in spite of her character defects is quite telling.
Book of the Year?
I wasn't sure how to go about choosing my Book of 2023, so in the end I decided to do a simple run-off between all my books of the month. The semi finals were:
A Kind of Spark vs Still Life
The Dictionary of Lost Words vs In Memoriam
In the end it came down to a choice between 'Still Life' and 'In Memoriam'. Sarah Winman's 'Still Life' was so exquisitely written that it made many of us who read it, long to visit Florence. However, the characters and storyline of Alice Winn's 'In Memoriam' made my heart break over and over again and in the end, this was what my decision rested on. Location vs character. Both books had absolutely everything, but a choice had to be made and 'In Memoriam' just nudged ahead by a whisker.