books

A Year in Books (2015 edition)

At the start of the year, I found this beautiful, huge, suede-covered notebook on sale when I was wandering through central Bath. It was too lovely to leave… and too lovely to use for just any old thing. So it became my book journal: all it contains is a list of books.

But to my surprise, looking back over the list, the names have triggered memories of my year: reading Elena Ferrante on Ischia. My heart breaking over and over as I read “H is for Hawk” in front of the fire. Reading about surfers in Cornwall on a beach full of surfers just round the bay from St Ives.

Somehow, my book journal has become my journal.

So, instead of the traditional “Here’s how my year went…” post, here are the books I read in 2015.* I’m not passing judgement on any of them; they’re presented in chronological order. But it’s fair to say that looking at the list, I’ve read some wonderful books over the past 12 months…

 

  1. The Taxidermist’s Daughter: Kate Mosse
  2. Spoiled Brats: Simon Rich
  3. We are All Completely Beside Ourselves: Karen Joy Fowler
  4. H is for Hawk: Helen Macdonald
  5. The Dolls: Kiki Sullivan
  6. The Opposite of Loneliness: Marina Keegan
  7. Phoenix Rising: Bryony Pearce
  8. Wolf Hall: Hilary Mantel
  9. Life – An Exploded Diagram: Mal Peet
  10. Possession: AS Byatt (r)
  11. The Old Ways: Robert Macfarlane
  12. The Little Stranger: Sarah Waters
  13. Etta & Otto & Russell & James: Emma Hooper
  14. Murder Most Unladylike: Robin Stevens
  15. Us: David Nicholls
  16. England, England: Julian Barnes
  17. Chop, Chop: Simon Wroe
  18. The World Beyond Your Head – How to Flourish in an Age of Distraction: Matthew Crawford
  19. The Sin Eater’s Daughter: Melinda Salisbury
  20. Fearney: James Long
  21. Poldark – Ross Poldark: Winston Graham
  22. Anna & the French Kiss: Stephanie Perkins
  23. All the Light We Cannot See: Anthony Doerr
  24. I’ll Give You the Sun: Jandy Nelson
  25. The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow: Katherine Woodfine
  26. Remix: Non Pratt
  27. Pompidou Posse: Sarah Lotz
  28. The Dead House: Dawn Kurtagich
  29. My Brilliant Friend: Elena Ferrante
  30. The Line of Beauty: Alan Hollinghurst
  31. Curtain Call: Anthony Quinn
  32. The Talented Mr Ripley: Patricia Highsmith
  33. Yes Please: Amy Poehler
  34. In the Light of What We Know: Zia Haider Rahman
  35. A Month in the Country: JL Carr
  36. A Place of Greater Safety: Hilary Mantel
  37. Blue: Lisa Glass
  38. The Year of Reading Dangerously: Andy Miller
  39. The Paradox: Charlie Fletcher
  40. The Buried Giant: Kazuo Ishiguro
  41. Ghostwritten: David Mitchell
  42. ZOM-B Fugitive: Darren Shan
  43. The Hunted: Charlie Higson
  44. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell: Susanna Clarke (r)
  45. Carry On: Rainbow Rowell
  46. The Magicians: Lev Grossman
  47. Spectacles: Sue Perkins
  48. Master & Commander: Patrick O’Brian
  49. The Loney: Andrew Michael Hurley
  50. The Story of a New Name: Elena Ferrante
  51. My True Love Gave to Me: ed. Stephanie Perkins (r)
  52. Landmarks: Robert Macfarlane
  53. The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher: Hilary Mantel
  54. A God in Ruins: Kate Atkinson

 

Happy New Year, and may your 2016 bring you all the wisdom and words you could wish for.

 

*A couple of provisos: there’s a few proofs I’ve read which I haven’t included, and I don’t include anything I read for the Bath Novel Award long & short lists. Books marked with an (r) are books I re-read.

On Hugging Books

Last night, I went to a church. Not to church, you understand, but to a church: the beautiful Christ Church perched on the side of a hill in Bath (which is, by the way, a church with a fascinating history if you’re ever in the area). It’s also where one of Bath’s amazing bookshops, Toppings, hosts some of its regular events. I’ve been to a couple now, and they’re never less than inspiring.

But last night… last night was a bit special. Special enough to brave the dark and the downpours. Last night was THE BONE CLOCKS event.

I am late to the David Mitchell party. I have friends who have read every one of his books the week they’ve come out. I have friends who’ve read and reread them and can track characters from one to another. I have friends who have written essays on his form and style. And I… hadn’t read a single one of his books.

And then I read THE BONE CLOCKS, mostly because I was interested.

And then I finished it, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

I won’t talk about the book itself here, because there are already enough places on the internet – and, even better, in the real world – where you can find people far more qualified than I am talking about it.

What I want to talk about is the hugging of books.

Christ Church is a working church, filled with pews rather than chairs, which means there’s a fair amount of good-natured shuffling and clambering past strangers to find a seat, trying not to knock over their glasses of wine (because this is Bath and we believe in doing books properly) and apologising profusely for having feet (because, again, this is Bath). By the time I got there, it was already fairly busy: lots of the audience had Toppings bags with their new books in; some were flipping through new books or reading old books… and some were hugging them. Holding them closely to them, cradling them. These books were important in some way. Talismanic. Precious.

I found a seat and settled down, flipping through my slightly less-than pristine copy I’d brought along… and it was only once things got underway that I realised I was doing the same. I was hugging this book to me. I have no idea why, but there I was – book pressed to me like I was afraid someone was going to snatch it and run away.

Later, in the signing queue, people were doing the same. They spoke in hushed tones of “my first David Mitchell”; they remembered how old they were when they read that first book, what was happening in their lives. They talked about how those early books had changed with them, every time they returned to them (and many had, more than once). These books were more than just books. They were maps, well-thumbed. Maps back to who these readers used to be. Maps to who they thought or hoped they would become. Maps of themselves.

I’m an old cynic, and I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like it before. But then, I’ve never read anything quite like that book before.

At the start of the event, Toppings announced that they have made David Mitchell their author of the year. By the end of the event, I could see why: not just from the reading (which, coming as it did from my favourite part of the book, I was already primed to enjoy) or from the searingly honest Q&A afterwards; not even from the time getting my copy signed (which was, in itself, a joy)… but from the number of people hugging their books.

Bath Literature Festival

The last thing I need is more books. I already have a strict regular culling policy and have developed the ability to cross the road any time I happen to be passing a bookshop – just in case. You see, I have a problem. My name is Lou, and I love books.

Last week was Bath’s annual Literature Festival, sponsored by the Independent. I live in Bath. You can see where this is going, can’t you?

I have basically spent the last couple of days rolling around in books. It’s been marvellous.

I didn’t even go to that many events: the list of things I wanted to go to was as long as my arm, but many of them sold out long before I got a look in. Being new to Bath (and not terribly organised) I hadn’t realised just how much of a Thing the festival was.

Hint: it’s a Thing.

After a fair amount of dithering, I got myself sorted with some tickets to a couple of talks (sadly, one I had to miss at the last minute because of a deadline. Boo) and off I toddled.

(more…)

Archer’s Goon

A little while back, SFX Magazine approached me and asked me whether I’d be interested in contributing to their regular “Book Club” feature. It runs at the back of every issue, focusing on a different book each time. And you know me. I like to talk about books. I particularly like to talk about books I like, and why they’re… y’know, awesome.

So of course I said yes, and the first book I’ll be discussing is ARCHER’S GOON by Diana Wynne Jones.

Funnily enough, it turns out this will be the 100th SFX Book Club, and given the current concern about level of representation female authors receive in the SFF world, it’s a wonderful coincidence. 100 feels like a significant number, somehow: and given the context of those two (brilliant) blogposts, it’s nice that the slot goes to a book by an outstanding fantasy writer who happens to be a woman, and whose loss is still felt so keenly by the genre.

The great thing about the Book Club is that it isn’t just me blathering on (after all, I do plenty of that here). So, if you’ve read ARCHER’S GOON, get in touch! You can comment on the book – did you love it / hate it / never read it because… – on the SFX forum, their Facebook page or via their Twitter, or you can always leave me a comment or tweet!

All Un-Quiet on the Western Front

The last time I was heard from, I was about to venture up to EdgeLit 2 in Derby, wasn’t I? Did you think you’d lost me? No such luck…

EdgeLit was fun and very, very hot indeed. I got to hang out with some of my lovely writer-friends, which was brilliant, and I really enjoyed the panel on urban fantasy’s popularity, which covered everything from Buffy as the archetypal “kick-ass” female character (and the fact that she works as such because she has flaws: she may be able to put a vampire through a wall, but she still gets grounded…) to the perception that urban fantasy and paranormal romance are the same thing – and where that came from. For what it’s worth, I strongly believe that they are separate sub-genres with a hefty amount of cross-over in both directions – but that doesn’t necessarily mean that one has to contain the other. But maybe that’s just me. Moving on.

Anyone who follows me on Twitter or Facebook will probably know about the racing. As I’ve mentioned on here before (and whinge about at length anywhere I can possibly get the words out) my husband is the proud owner (and driver) of a race car, which is running in the UK Time Attack series. This means I spend a lot of weekends in the paddock at racetracks, and last weekend was no exception: that was Oulton Park in Cheshire.

This time didn’t go entirely to plan, as you’ll see from the video…

It might not look like much from inside the car – and he was absolutely fine, thankfully – but standing on the other side of the track and knowing that not only has there been a crash but that your husband’s is the only car not back in the pits (and watching the track doctors go screeching off in their car…) is a deeply, deeply unpleasant thing.

1000111_567602749949112_30444218_n

(Photo: Togethia Media / James Young)

Still, driver fine. Car not so much, but there’s a few weeks before the next race – at which the car will have some shiny new livery.

BFR new car livery

Isn’t he pretty? Yet again, that’s the work of my fantastic cover artist, Pye Parr. (The large blank space, in case you’re wondering, is for the series sponsor stickers which have to be applied to the door of every car competing.)

Minor catastrophe aside, the highlight of the event was watching the vintage F1 cars on the track – one an old Schumacher car, and one an old Senna one. Because I’m part of the race team, I get a pit wall pass meaning I’m free to come and go in the garages and pits as well as out onto the safety wall dividing the pits and the track – and for a long-time F1 fan, being able to watch (and hear) them go past from there was something else.

F1 car

Away from motor racing, I popped in to Kim Curran and Bryony Pearce’s launch for their new Strange Chemistry books, CONTROL and THE WEIGHT OF SOULS at Forbidden Planet. It was enormous fun, and it was fantastic to see so many people turn out to support them – including a big group of teen readers. I was lucky enough to read a draft of Kim’s book, “Control” a little while ago, and thoroughly recommend it. She’s one of the most exciting new YA authors working in genre, and I hope there are many more books to come.

Speaking of new books, I’ve been popping up here and there to talk about REBELLION a little more. You can find me lurking at Chuck Wendig’s Terribleminds, talking about the challenges of REBELLION (and my favourite paragraph) as well as talking about angels at Winged Reviews. And if you’re interested in the “story behind the story”, pop over to Upcoming4me to find out about REBELLION’s history.

I’ll also be doing a couple of things at the upcoming Nine Worlds convention in London in a few weeks – but I’ll post on that separately. I’m not sure I can compete with the car…

The Lists

So, I had a bit of an odd evening yesterday. Mainly because this happened.

Screen Shot 2013-06-18 at 11.53.27

 

The British Fantasy Society announced the shortlists for their annual awards (the British Fantasy Awards). And I was delighted to find I’ve been included in the list for the Sydney J. Bounds Award, given to a newcomer every year [insert debate about all possible meanings of the word “best” here].

I was even more delighted to see the other names on that list – partly because there are some wonderful books on there, and partly because I’m lucky enough to be able to call a good few of the authors of them friends – particularly Kim Curran, Anne Lyle and Helen Marshall. All three of them are doing very different things – something which extends to the rest of the shortlist, incidentally – but I’d be more than happy for any of them to win. (Of course I won’t win. Don’t be so silly.)

The point is that this is an exciting shortlist. I can’t claim to have read all the books on it – although I certainly will try to – but of the ones I have read, there’s an enormous amount of scope. There’s YA in there (and not crossover YA, either: solid, properly-teenage YA) and there’s historical fiction and there’s SF and there’s literary. And there’s urban fantasy peppered with angels and a fair amount of swearing. Cough. Moving on…

It’s a shortlist I’m immensely proud and honoured to be part of, because it’s completely unpredictable and reflects what’s emerging from writers working in genre right now.

That made me happy.

And then there was this.

Screen Shot 2013-06-18 at 11.53.42

 

Which – I’ll be honest – gave me a funny ringing sort of sound in both ears and made me need a bit of a sit down. It was a shock, let’s put it that way, and I still don’t quite have the words for how I feel. The closest I can get is a sort of “Snnnngggzzztzttp” noise, followed by a high-pitched giggle and needing to sit down again.

I cannot even begin to emphasise how much I won’t win this (because come on. Seriously.) but I will enjoy seeing someone else win it (and I know who I’d like it to be…) because it’s a fantastic party to be invited to.

It’s also a lovely thing to be able to say that the Solaris Books “Magic” Anthology is also on the shortlist for best anthology (and it’s a very tough category this year) and there are appearances by friends throughout the nominations. All in all, it’s an exciting list – and I can’t wait to see what happens.

I should also point out that Blood and Feathers being there at all has everything to do with the members of both the BFS & FantasyCon, who nominated for the shortlists. And it also has to do with the tremendous trust and hard work of my editor, Jon Oliver, and everyone at Solaris. So thank you all. You’ve rendered me speechless(ish) and that’s pretty damn hard to do.

Take it away, Dean…

 

Splinters of Souls

bookshelves

I was having a conversation about books (no surprise there) on Twitter over the weekend, and it veered into the amount of money it’s possible to spend on them when you really get going – and how that compares to, say, a designer handbag. I said, rather glibly, that I’d much rather go book shopping than handbag shopping… and then I started to wonder why.

Let’s start with the obvious. I’m not that fussed about expensive bags or shoes as trophies. They just don’t do much for me. I have one decent handbag, which was a gift (and which I do love. So much so that when it got damaged in the Apple Juice Incident of 2012 – details of which I’m not at liberty to divulge – I might have got a little bit sniffly and uttered the immortal cry of: “This is why I can’t have nice things…”. But moving swiftly on.) and which I use a lot. But I only really need the one good one, don’t I? After all, any others would just sit in a cupboard when they’re not being used. Alone. And, knowing my luck, slowly sinking into a puddle of juice. Christ.

But books don’t do that. I looked around my house, and I saw books. Not as many as I used to have, admittedly: I gave away boxes and boxes of them before we moved. But still, books. And because I straight-out alphabetise them (alas, I haven’t the patience for Dewey), there are books rubbing spines that you wouldn’t necessarily think of as natural companions. John Connolly and Jilly Cooper, for instance… whereas Joe and Will Hill seem like easy shelf-mates. (Me? Oh, I’m next to Erin Morgenstern… and within striking distance of the Michael Marshall/Smiths…)

The thing is, I can see them. And more than that, I remember them. Every time I look at those shelves, I’m not just seeing books. I’m seeing memories.

There, right at the start, is my mother’s collection of Judy Astley books, and her copy of Sam Shepard’s short stories which I know she only bought because she had a thing for him (and rightly so) but which are astonishingly good.

There’s the battered old copy of Joanne Harris’s Chocolat, which I’ve read and re-read every Easter since it was published. On the shelf in the bedroom, there’s the copy of How to Live in a Science Fictional Universe which I was reading when my mother died and which made me cry when I reached the last page. There’s the Lud In The Mist I nicked from my parents’ bookshelves when I was little because I liked the cover. The 3 volumes of The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship‘s by far the most battered, and actually falls open at the first appearance of Strider (what?).

There’s my beloved copy of Only Forward, signed at the very first convention I ever went to, in Brighton. There’s Chris Fowler’s Disturbia: a book I’ve had since I don’t even remember when, and which I used as a sort of unofficial guide book to London when I moved there for university.

Books by my friends, books by people I’ve never met and most likely never will. Well. Be difficult with Dickens, wouldn’t it?

Books that have made me laugh, books that have made me cry and books that break my heart.

And when I look at those books, I realise why I’d rather have them than a bunch of handbags.

They are memories; pieces not just of their authors’ souls, snapshots of them as they wrote, but pieces of mine.

I remember the first time I read some of them. I remember the times I’ve re-read some of them – and left between their pages like a pressed flower or a leaf or grains of sand from a holiday, there are slivers of my own soul. Versions of me, be they from one, ten or twenty years ago. Who I was when I picked up that book for the first time; who I’ve been since.

There’s a famous Jean Cocteau quote, beloved of cat owners – myself included – that cats are the visible soul of a house.

Perhaps books, whether tidily stacked or jostling for space and piled one on top of each other, are the visible soul of their owner.

World Book Day

As you’ll doubtless be aware, today is World Book Day.

A whole day, all about books. (You can probably imagine just how happy this concept makes me.) 

To celebrate, here’s a list of a few books I’ve either read & enjoyed recently, or have on my “Readmereadmereadme!” pile, all of which come heartily recommended.

Gillian Flynn: Gone Girl

Will Hill: the Department 19 series (as a bonus, there’s a D19 story available as part of the World Book Day YA app…)

Warren Ellis: Gun Machine

James Smythe: The Explorer

Laura Lam: Pantomime

Kim Curran: Shift

Cressida Cowell: the How to Train Your Dragon series.

 

And on the “Read me very soon” pile…

Tanya Byrne: Heart Shaped Bruise

Gaie Sebold: Dangerous Gifts

Emma Newman: Between Two Thorns

 

Any and all of these books will repay your love with their stories, their characters and their worlds.

Happy reading!

(By the way, if you want to keep track of what I’m reading this year, I’m trying to keep a record of every book over on my Pinterest board. It’s a really good idea – which needless to say I’ve nicked from someone else, because it’s far too clever for me…)

On Editors

Yes, I’m supposed to be working on the edits to BLOOD AND FEATHERS: REBELLION.

I’m supposed to be working on them right now. Naturally, this means I feel a sudden urge to blog, to do the ironing, to go and dig the garden… to do anything other than open that file.

It’s not that I don’t like editing – I do. It’s the part of the process where you can not just see the book you wrote getting better; you can feel it. Deep down.

You have perspective, which makes it easier to cut that half-scene which seemed so very important a couple of months ago and now appears to be utterly redundant. You’ve also, y’know, actually finished the whole book – which means you know what it was you were trying to say and what you want the Whole Of The Thing to be about (which isn’t necessarily the case while you’re in the middle of writing it).

You also have that most invaluable of things: an editor’s voice in your ear.

That changes everything.

Mostly, in my case, it makes me want to kick furniture as I wander around feeling stupid for a while because of course he’s right. How could I not see that [this bit] would be much better [there], and that I’ve already said [that] over [here] and my god, whatever was I thinking when I came up with that sentence?!

Editors make books better, no doubt. They also make authors better. They work extremely hard and they have the near-impossible job of making a writer sound like the best version of themselves – without ever losing what it is that makes them “themselves”.

They are the reader’s proxy and first line of defence: making sure that the book that finally gets out; the book that someone spends their money on, is the best it can be – whether it’s literary fiction or chick-lit or a commercial thriller or SFF or a non-fiction book on manhole covers.

They are the writer’s last line of defence: sitting at a desk with a red pen (literally or metaphorically), listening and nodding as their author details exactly how they’re going to do something incredibly stupid, before raising an eyebrow and saying in the most measured of tones: “Are you quite sure you want to do that…?”

Editors are the warm, beating heart of publishing. Readers and writers would both be far worse off without them.

Show them some love.

And yes, I suppose I’d better go and do my edits now. Before my last line of defence throws something heavy at me…

The Nice List

My WordPress dashboard is snowing. That can only mean one thing: it must be nearly Christmas.

Look, I can’t help it – and if you think that’s a bad way of judging the start of the holiday season, you should meet Other Half. He declares it to be officially Christmas when one of his online forums puts up the twinkly fairy lights gif around the border of the page. So, you know…

Anyway. Christmas is rolling towards us like a tinsel-strewn juggernaut, and this means it’s prime festive shopping season. Ever helpful, I’ve come up with a couple of suggestions for gifts for those really difficult people to buy for. I warn you: these are, largely, Things What My Friends Have Made – but you shouldn’t let their questionable judgement in hanging around with me put you off. Everything on this list is awesome, and would make an amazing present – and frankly, if you can’t plug your mates’ stuff on your blog, then where can you do it?

So, without further ado, I present (see what I did there?)…

THE NICE LIST

(for the sake of simplicity, the majority of these links are Amazon physical ones. Feel free to sub in the physical / ebook retailer of your choice….)

 – For action junkies:

SHIFT – Kim Curran

DEPARTMENT 19: THE RISING – Will Hill

Scott Tyler and Jamie Carpenter are, between them, as average as your average teenage boy gets. Except they aren’t… because as you soon discover if you pick up either of these two books, Scott has the power to change any decision he’s ever made and Jamie’s a vampire hunter with a secret government department. Gory, gripping and action-packed, these books are brilliantly paced and plotted. And if you can’t choose between them… why not pick both?

 

 – For Doomsday Preppers:

THE TESTIMONY – James Smythe

Let me tell you a story about this book (in which a blast of static is heard by almost everyone on the planet, followed by a voice. Is it God? Is it aliens? Is it a mass hallucination..?). I took this on holiday with me earlier this year, and it was the last book I read before heading home. I was sitting in the airport at the Seychelles, which is a tiny little thing, at around midnight, waiting for my flight to be called and reading the last couple of chapters of THE TESTIMONY. There were one or two people already in the departure hall, but we were the last flight out for the night so it was pretty quiet.

And then someone, somewhere, leaned on a button and switched on the PA. There was a burst of deafening white noise… and nothing else.

Not that it mattered, because by that time I had dropped my book and hidden under the departure lounge seating.

That’s how good this book is.

It’s complicated, twisty… and utterly terrifying.

 

 – For Western fans & short story addicts: 

A TOWN CALLED PANDEMONIUM – Jurassic Press

I’ve been involved in the Pandemonium project (one of my stories appeared in the apocalypse-themed anthology, now out of print) but this one’s a different animal altogether. A shared-world, weird Western anthology with some of my favourite writers involved, it will transport you to a town with secrets, tragedies and horrors. So what are you waiting for? Saddle up…

 

For urban explorers:

THE CITY’S SON – Tom Pollock

Urban explorers know that cities have a life of their own – and London is no exception. But you’ve never imagined it quite like this. Tom Pollock gives you a version of London where street lights come to life, where the ghosts of trains ride the rails and where the building sites scarring the surface of the city lay the foundations for something sinister…

One part urban fantasy, one part New Weird, one part utterly itself, read this and you’ll never look at the city in the same way again.

 

 – For art buffs:

Vincent Chong prints

Nominated for a World Fantasy Award last year, Vincent Chong has produced book covers for Stephen King, Joe Hill and China Mieville among others, as well as illustrating collector’s editions of some incredible novels (I have a copy of THE CLUB DUMAS, which is one of my favourite books and is probably the most expensive copy of a novel I’ve ever bought!). I have a bunch of his prints, including one (predictably, I guess) of a fallen angel, and they’re beautiful.  Also, I have this as my desktop right now, because I love it.

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So there you go. Yes, they’re all my friends – and I’m utterly unapologetic about recommending their work, because every single one of them is immensely talented. You won’t go wrong with any of them.