Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My Year In Books: 2014

It's here again, that last day of the year, the 31st December. Now, I'm not going to tell you my thoughts on the past year, my achievements, my worst bits. etc. etc. But I am going to give you a run down of my year in books.

This is the first year I've done this; kept a monthly tally of the books I've read, and I will definitely be making this an annual thing. I just kept a list in the back of my diary with the titles and authors of the books and a tally at the end of each month of how many books read. (My favourites from each month are highlighted in bold.)

So here goes:

January 2014

  1. Days of Blood and Starlight (Daughter of Smoke and Bone #2) : Laini Taylor
  2. Revealed (House of Night #11) : P C & Kristen Cast
  3. Last Blood (House of Camarre #5) : Kristen Painter
  4. The Invisible Man: H G Wells.
  5. Fire: Kate Cann
  6. The War of the Worlds: H G Wells
  7. The Vampire of Highgate: Asa Bailey
  8. Love Minus Eighty: Will Mcintosh
Four of these were Christmas presents, one was borrowed from a friend and three were from the library. I think my favourite book of January would have to be Last Blood: Kristen Painter, as it was the final in the House of Comarre series and a long awaited end to a great fantasy saga. 

February 2014
  1. Rivers of London: Ben Aaronovitch
  2. Dr Zhivago: Boris Pasternak
  3. Fortunately, the Milk: Neil Gaiman
  4. The Bride's Farewell: Meg Rosoff
  5. My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece: Annabel Pitcher
  6. She is not Invisible: Marcus Sedgewick
  7. Noble Conflict: Malorie Blackman
  8. The Graveyard Book: Neil Gaiman
  9. Odd Thomas: Dean Koontz
Of February's books, two of them were Christmas presents that I hadn't got around to in January, five were borrowed from the library, one I bought, and one was recommended by a family I was babysitting for, so I read it whilst the kids were asleep. My favourite book of February had to be the incredible, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece. A beautifully emotive story of loss and prejudice and friendship. 

March 2014
  1. 77 Shadow Street: Dean Koontz
  2. The Crane Wife: Patrick Ness
  3. Day of the Triffids: John Wyndham
  4. Hollow Pike: James Dawson
  5. Essential Meteorology: Donald Ahrens
  6. Forever Odd (Odd Thomas #2) : Dean Koontz
  7. Clockwork Angel (TID #1) : Cassandra Clare
  8. Clockwork Prince (TID #2) : Cassandra Clare
  9. Clockwork Princess (TID #3) : Cassandra Clare
Ah, I do love a Cassie Clare re-read, and so sometimes the whole trilogy gets another outing. Four of these books were borrowed from the library, three of them re-read, one of them was research for one of my novels - I think you'll guess which one - and the other two I bought. My favourite book of March was definitely the quirky new adult book from Patrick Ness: The Crane Wife. Extraordinarily fantastical, yet still so human, I highly recommend this!

April 2014
  1. The Humans: Matt Haig
  2. Panic: Lauren Oliver
  3. Delirium (Delirium Trilogy #1) : Lauren Oliver
  4. The Red House: Mark Haddon
  5. The Three Musketeers: Alexandre Dumas
  6. Divergent: Veronica Roth
  7. Infinite Sky: C J Flood
The first five were borrowed from the library, definitely a good haul, and they allowed me the discovery of a new author whom I now love: Lauren Oliver. Thank you Kentish Town Library. The final two were lovely YA treats, both Easter gifts. Who the hell needs chocolate? It's a tricky month to pick a favourite, but I think it just leans towards Panic: Lauren Oliver, with The Humans: Matt Haig, very close behind. 

May 2014
  1. The Shock of the Fall: Nathan Filer
  2. Holes: Louis Sacher
  3. Handmaid's Tale: Margaret Atwood
  4. The Traitor Game: B R Collins
  5. Poems of John Keats: Complied by Claire Tomalin
  6. Full Dark, No Stars: Stephen King
  7. Marina: Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  8. The Ocean at the End of the Lane: Neil Gaiman
  9. American Psycho: Bret Easton Ellis
  10. Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging: Louise Rennison
  11. Submarine: Joe Dunthorne
Wow, May was a good month for reading, and reading a variety as I think you'll agree. There were some absolute belters this month, and eight of them borrowed from the library. Two were Easter presents and one I bought from the lovely Owl Bookshop in Kentish Town. (Keep your local independent book stores alive!) 

Picking a favourite from this month is impossible. The best I could do was my favourite three: The Shock of the Fall: Nathan Filer. This is phenomenal! The Handmaid's Tale: Margaret Atwood. This is terrifying and one of the most incredible books I've ever read. Think dystopian but written in the '80s. Full Dark, No stars: Stephen King. This anthology of short stories is at times harrowing, funny, scary and down right freaky, but the way it is written keeps you glued to the pages. 

Number 10 on the list was needed after number 9 on the list, just for a little light relief. Jeez American Psycho will freak you out as well as making you laugh out loud and squirm in discomfort. Read it! 

June 2014
  1. City of Lost Souls (TMI #5) : Cassandra Clare
  2. City of Heavenly Fire (TMI #6) : Cassandra Clare
  3. The Cloud Hunters: Alex Shearer
  4. Jamaica Inn: Daphne De Maurier
  5. As I Walked Out One Evening: W H Auden
  6. Brother Odd (Odd Thomas #3) : Dean Koontz
  7. Haunt Dead Scared: Curtis Jobling
  8. To Kill a Mockingbird: Harper Lee
  9. The Wasp Factory: Ian Banks
  10. Picture Me Gone: Meg Rosoff
Another good haul this month with five hailing from the library. The Mortal Instruments series was completed with the fabulous: City of Heavenly Fire, which warranted a re-read of the preceding book in the series, just for a recap. (Any excuse. I love Cassie Clare.) And June also saw first reads of two classics that I probably should have already read but hadn't. But now I have. I think it's only fair that my favourite book of June goes to Harper Lee and the incredible: To Kill a Mockingbird. Yes it took me a long time to get round to reading it, and no I was not lucky enough to study it in high school, but it was well worth the wait, and I know it will be a book that remains on the shelf, always, waiting to be read again. 

July 2014
  1. Selected Poetry: Rudyard Kipling
  2. Seven Second Delay: Tom Easton
  3. Chicago: Lonely Planet Travel Guide
  4. It's OK, I'm wearing Big Knickers: Louise Rennison
  5. Jessica Cole, Model Spy: Sarah Sky
  6. Wisconsin: Moon Travel Guide
  7. More Than This: Patrick Ness
  8. Sky Run: Alex Shearer
  9. Attachments: Rainbow Rowell
  10. Humbling: Patrick Roth
July saw the inclusion of a couple of travel guides, as I started to plan for the September US/Canada trip, very exciting. And the other eight were library triumphs. A good selection this month and after the YALC - Young Adult Literature Conference - and all the talk of Rainbow Rowell, I found Attachments in the adult section of the library. Oh my word, you have to read this book. She has such a handle of dialogue. It is so real. And I just love the way she writes. There is nothing forced, it is just so natural and you feel totally in safe hands. I wasn't going to jump on the RR band wagon, but after barely a page or two, I was on it and speeding away. I think it's safe to say she won my favourite book of July, but Patrick Ness' latest YA was very close behind. I also thoroughly enjoyed - weirdly - the depressively, dark, Humbling by Patrick Roth. 

August 2014
  1. The Machine: James Smythe
  2. The Penelopiad: Margaret Atwood
  3. Cat's Cradle: Kurt Vonnegut
  4. Turn of the Screw: Henry James
  5. Everything's Eventual: Stephen King
A less productive reading month, but a very productive writing month. I wrote several thousands of words of a new novel this month and that took most of my brain capacity, but on a brief holiday I managed a few extras. Three of these were borrowed from my partner and two were from the library. I think my favourite of the month would go to James Smythe: The Machine. This is dystopia at its bleakest and when I think about it, August's reading was pretty bleak at best. The sun may be shining outside........

September 2014
  1. The Weirdstone of Brisengamen: Alan Garner
  2. Odd Hours (Odd Thomas #4) : Dean Koontz
  3. Eleanor and Park: Rainbow Rowell
  4. Shadow and Bone (Grisha Book 1) : Leigh Bardugo
  5. Flowers in the Attic: Virginia Andrews
  6. Echo Boy: Matt Haig
  7. Zom - B: Darren Shan
  8. Heat Wave: Richard Castle (TV tie in: Castle)
September's haul was made up of a combination of Birthday gifts, Birthday money purchases and one library steal. This was another month where it was impossible to pick just one favourite, so I narrowed it down to three. Eleanor and Park. I'm sorry but Rainbow Rowell can do no wrong at the moment. Two books down and two books devoured and loved. Shadow and Bone (Grisha Book 1) was the enlightening opening of a trilogy, of which I am desperate to get my hands on books 2 and 3. Fantasy, magic, a war of epic proportions, and all set in Russia. Awesome! Flowers in the Attic - which I hate to reveal I'd already seen the film of - is more terrifying than any horror book I've ever read. This isn't about monsters and supernatural beings, this is about how evil real people can be, and how the innocent are punished for someone else's crimes. Absolute terror and injustice and it's almost impossible to put the book down. 

October 2014
  1. Doctor Sleep: Stephen King
  2. Revealed (House of Night #12) : P C & Kristen Cast
  3. Wild Boy: Rob Lloyd Thomas
  4. City of Ashes (TMI #2) : Cassandra Clare
Rather slim pickings this month, but there was a rather epic holiday in there and the completion and first edit of the novel. Plus I was travelling less due to half term and the kids I look after being away. 
Anyhoo, these were books I owned/had bought/had found and of course number 4 was a re-read because I'd been watching The City of Bones (TMI #1) on Amazon Prime, and even though it's shite compared to the book, I couldn't stop watching it. Anyhoo, my favourite book this month was the long awaited sequel to The Shining: Doctor Sleep. Thank you Mr King, it was well worth it. 
But October also saw me finish - finally, I was running out of shelf space - the House of Night series. 12 books. 12 books. It's a good job they were all pretty tall and thin. They have their own shelf. 

November 2014
  1. A Natural History of Dragons: Marie Brennan
  2. Say Her Name: James Dawson
  3. Me Talk Pretty One Day: David Sedaris
  4. Gone Girl: Gillian Flynn
  5. The Great Gatsby: F Scott Fitzgerald
  6. The Iron Trial: Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
  7. Sense and Sensibility: Jane Austen
A nice mixture of oldies and newbies this month, due to raiding the shelves at home, raiding the library and treating myself. November also saw me take part and complete NaNoWriMo. 50,000 words and a new novel done, as well as the novel I finished in October. Not bad in terms of productivity this year. My favourite of this month may be controversial for some - only because of the classics on there -  but it was actually Say Her Name: James Dawson. The horror/thriller YA was a lot of fun and had me laughing out loud in places. it even managed to ruffle the neck hairs a little. It was also useful in terms of my own YA horror, to see how far you can go, and just exactly what is creepy on the page. Thanks James. 

December 2014
  1. Maze Runner (Maze Runner #1) : James Dashner
  2. Scorch Trials (Maze Runner #2) : James Dashner
  3. Girl Interrupted: Susannah Kaysen
  4. Afterworlds: Scott Westerfeld
  5. Death Cure (Maze Runner #3) : James Dashner
This has been the ultimate YA month to finish off the year. Having seen the Maze Runner film over in Chicago, I was desperate to read the trilogy. It's good to see YA films with male protagonists and written by men, doing just as well as say The Hunger Games and Divergent. Scott Westerfeld's double book, Afterworlds is a real treat. I enjoyed all 600 pages of it. But I think my favourite this month, by the tiniest of margins was Girl Interrupted. Again, a film I have watched, almost oblivious at the time that it was based on a book. But wow. This was concise, yet it felt like you spent every moment of her two and half years trapped with her. Big love for this book. 

And so, my final tally is a whopping: 93 books. 

Of course I cannot choose a favourite. All these books have kept me gripped and turning the pages in their own very unique ways. They have all offered me something, whether terror, hope, despair, or sheer laughter. I have definitely expanded my 'classics' repertoire as I was - and still am  - sadly lacking in that department. I will always be playing catch up. I will always be somewhat late to the party. But I will get there eventually by my own very unique route.  

Whatever you're up to tonight, be safe and have fun! Just being with friends and family, with some good food is enough. We all know this is a slightly overrated occasion. But hopefully you've got the right people around you for a decent farewell to 2014 and a jolly welcoming of 2015. Sod the usual routine of promising to diet and exercise and all that nonsense. If you can and do, great, but no use in pressuring yourself from the off. Why not instead, just promise to read more books. Surely that is a New Year's promise that everyone can get on board with. 

All the best. 


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Going East To Go South: The Journey Home

Well, if you haven’t heard – and if you haven’t, you must have been hiding under the Christmas Tree in a semi-comatose state – there were some pretty hefty delays and major fuck ups with train travel yesterday, up and down the UK.

It really does read like The Diary of a Wimpy Country. I mean come on, some places had about an inch, maybe two inches of snow. Did it really warrant this much disaster news broadcasting and road closures and delays? Come on Britain. It’s not the first time and it sure as hell won’t be the last time the white stuff falls, but every time it does you’d think we were stuck in the movie, The Day After Tomorrow.

It’s winter. Winter is cold. Sometimes it’s cold enough for snow. Winter comes once every year, therefore there is a possibility of snow each year. Granted it doesn’t always happen – except for maybe the highlands of Scotland – but there’s always a chance. And yet Britain have nothing in place. They are always ill prepared and act as though we’re really put out by it.

Just compare our snow plight to that of the US last month and there really is no contest.

Anyhoo, back to the trains. So we all knew about King’s Cross being shut due to over running engineering works, thanks to the BBC and ITV’s news bulletins, but was anyone actually surprised? Has there ever been a year when the works didn’t overrun? At least Virgin were up front and said services would be out until the 29th , giving them a more realistic 5 days to do works, rather than 2 days. Come on, realistic targets people.

We were actually quite lucky – or so I thought – as our train was going in to St Pancras and therefore wasn’t affected by the closure or the overrunning works, but unfortunately it meant we had to go from Manchester to Sheffield in order to go down to London, and guess where the snow hit worst? Oh, you’ve got it, between Manchester and Sheffield. Cue delays, signal failures, cancellations and screen information fuck ups. Merry Christmas.

We’d been checking all day to see how the trains were going and almost all the trains between Manchester and Sheffield were delayed, so we expected to be late and almost expected to miss our connection but there was still that ounce of hope, especially when it turned out our train actually was on time, and we managed to get our seats and our luggage stowed. Wow! Or so we thought………

We made it to Stockport and the next stop on time and then came the 30 minutes of going nowhere, with no announcements and no apologies and basically no information. We knew we’d majorly missed our connection at Sheffield and would have to wait around half an hour once we eventually arrived. So what was a ranter to do in this situation, when faced with half an hour of going nowhere......? She planned her next blog of course, and adapted the words of a couple of Christmas songs too:

(To the tune of Deck the Halls)
Delayed trains because of snow. Fa la la la la la la choo choo.
‘Tis the season to be pissed off. Fa la la la la la la choo choo.
That’s my seat, wait, no reservations. La la la la la la la choo choo.
Where the fuck can I fit my case? Fa la la la la la la choo choo.

I’m quite fond of that one, but I also came up with this gem to the tune of Walking in a Winter Wonderland:

Gone away are the schedules
Here to stay are the delays
You’ll miss your next train
Ee, it’s a bloody pain
Riding on a Christmas delayed train.

Clearly this was a very productive use of my delay time.

I think the biggest slap in the face of the day, which actually wasn’t a slap in my face, thankfully, was the announcement at Manchester Piccadilly that the 16.16 to Edinburgh had left on time, but due to the wrong information on the screens, most people missed it. Say what? And this announcement only came about 20 minutes after the train had left leaving a lot of pissed off people awaiting a train that had already gone. Come on. There were already cancellations and delays left right and centre and then you go and fuck up the platform number on the screens, meaning that a train that actually was on time was missing half of its passengers. Well done. Well done.

So back to Sheffield......As we were exiting our first train, a lady who was travelling alone and was severely pissed off, began a rant of her own. She just needed to offload and I was the next available person. I agreed and nodded at the appropriate points and made comments like, ‘it’s ridiculous,’ and ‘they didn’t even apologise,’ as well as plenty of ‘I know. I know.’ Bless her. She then wished me a happy new year and a safe journey. I wouldn’t like to be the person on the end of the phone or email when she applies for her refund. Eeshk. Just give her anything she wants.

Anyhoo, when we eventually made it to Sheffield, the next train was coming in about 20 minutes and the platform was busying up. Then it was delayed by 17 minutes, then 20 minutes, then back down to 18 minutes. Then the train supposed to be after this train took over and was going to arrive first, then it changed to only 12 minutes late and the other train had to change platform. Fun and games at Sheffield station.

Once on the train we picked up a couple of minutes extra delay but it was fairly quiet and plain sailing into London. And we were only an hour later than our scheduled train, but it felt like longer. It had taken around five hours to get home, more than double the usual time, but you do come to expect these things around Christmas time. Still, I know a lot of people had it much worse than us and I have to say the lady train manager on our final train to London was very apologetic and kept us updated of arrival times and any further delays, and like she said it was more the knock on effect than anything else, as the trains had been delayed all day and it pushed almost every service off track.

I hope everyone managed to get where they intended to, eventually. 

One final end rant. How hard is it to write a blog on an aeroplane? Yes, this blog has been written in the air from London to Bologna, as we had only a mere 9 hours in Flat 19 before setting out for Stansted and out flight to Italy to see A’s family. I’ve been juggling note pads, the lap top, porridge and money and the inability to see the screen well enough. Not the best writing conditions, but it’s done now, blog number 198. Getting closer to the big 200.

If you are travelling today, I hope you have a more pleasant experience, though I highly doubt it. And I hope the train companies pull their fingers out and finish the damn works.

Until next time, enjoy the build up to 2015. I’ve got a feeling it’s gonna be a mega year!


Monday, December 1, 2014

Rants Vs NaNoWriMo and Small Towns

Well it's freakin' December. How the feck did that happen? One minute it's Halloween and I'm dressed as a geisha witch, and the next its perfume adverts and people getting gooey over the John Lewis advert and far too many renditions of jingle bells for one lifetime. So what happened in between?

Ah, it was that pesky NaNoWriMo, and for those of you thinking this is the wordiest acronym ever - you'd be right - it stands for National Novel Writing Month, the object being to challenge yourself to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. Crazy right? Yeah. I did it!

You do tend to feel like you bypassed a month of everyone else's year, like November somehow didn't exist for you because you were in another world, your fictional world and therefore it shouldn't count. 

Keeping up with social media and friends was tricky but doable. But going out to work or study became more inconvenient than ever. What happens when you're in the throes of an amazing scene and then you have to leave the house, or your train journey ends, or someone wants to talk to you? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

It does give you a strange discipline and a weird feeling of control. Knowing that you have a deadline is a thing most unpublished writers - like myself - don't tend to adhere to, so this is a great grounding for working up to a deadline and the art of doing a bit each day, no matter whether it is 100 words or 4000 words. The point is that you're making progress day by day and that it is all adding to the bigger picture.

It also makes you realise what you can achieve in a short amount of time, whilst also working/studying/living. You don't have to give up everything, you just have to get up a little earlier, or write in your lunch break, or write late at night, or for that hour in between teaching jobs. Stolen moments here and there can produce a few hundred words and set you up nicely for the next scene.

For instance, during NaNoWriMo:

I attended Stream, the first South London Book Festival. I took my laptop with me and wrote over a 1000 words in between two panels.

I wrote 2 blogs on my rantsofabitternortherner blog.

I read 7 books.

I went to a dinner party and a Sunday lunch all in the same weekend.

I spent two nights babysitting.

I travelled up to Nottingham to stay with some friends, writing on both my train journey there and back.

And I spent two days away in Basel, Switzerland for my tenth anniversary with my partner A.

And in the whole month there was only one day where I did no words at all.

So really, you can still live and work and play and travel and blog and eat and maybe even get a bit of sleep, you can earn money and write a complete novel in a month. I know it because I've done it along with thousands of other people around the world. Congratulations to everyone who took part. I know it's made me a better writer for it. And it is the completion of my fourth YA novel, which is a hefty achievement.

It's definitely something I would do again, though I do have a couple of quibbles. Why November? It is a month with only 30 days. A month with 31 would be even better. And also it gives you that kind of blackout feeling, like you lost a month somewhere, which on the lead up to Christmas and the end of the year is quite shocking, because you go to sleep on Halloween night and wake up on the 1st December with your advent calendar gleaming. But you do have a 50000 word novel too. My main issue was fitting in runs/workouts, but I think that's probably a bit of laziness on my part. Still, it's nice to have a reason/something to blame. Oh yeah, I put on a bit of weight, but I wrote a novel in a month so deal with the love handles, alright!

Okay, backtracking slightly, I have an issue when we go away for a weekend break to a small town/city in Europe, though it can happen on our longer holidays in the States as well. I don't know if anyone else experiences the same thing, especially if you're from London, but it goes something like this:

*clears throat* You arrive at your destination, probably having flown Ryanair and having picked the destination because of the proximity of the airport to the city centre/town centre. You make your way to the accommodation, and if you're anything like us you will have booked a cute flat on air bnb with cooking facilities because let's face it it's a month before Christmas and Switzerland is expensive. So you arrive there and the very nice artsy lady who owns the flat shows you in and tells you it's very small and we say that's fine we have a small flat in London. And then here it comes:

You have come from London? Why?

Er. Why do you go anywhere? To travel. To see new things. Because it's cheap to get to. Because there's a Christmas Market. Because we haven't been there before. Etc. Etc. I don't think I need to go on.

And then you get the classic: It's very small compared to London.

No. Really? And I thought every city was just as big. Oh My God. I hate that so much. We live in London and we know how big it is, sometimes it's nice to escape somewhere smaller, or just to experience something different. I know I'm an ignorant Brit at times, but I am aware that London is a freakin' massive City. I do not expect nor want every place I visit to be on the same scale. I visit smaller places for a different feel but also to do as much as you can in a short break. If everywhere was as big as London, you would have to go for a month to get anything out of it. It's crazy. And it bugs the freakin' life out of me. As you may have gathered.

We get it sometimes in the States as well, but that tends to be pure disbelief when we visit smaller cities/towns, because they see London as so far away and so different that they can't imagine why people would want to visit. But in everything, variety is key. And going somewhere different and doing something different is the whole point of holidays and travelling. To get out there and do something new and meet new people and try new food and explore cultures and traditions that are different to your own, and to eat massive sausages at Christmas markets. Mmmmm. Bratwurst. 

I digress. 

Anyhoo. NaNoWriMo done. Small towns covered. I think it's time to go.