I’m hiding behind my metaphorical bus stop as I write this, peeking, hesitantly, around the corner; partly to shelter from the sod awful weather we’re having here (it’s been raining or sleeting or snowing around the clock for the past two weeks) and partly to hide my shame and guilt. As some of you lovely fully clothed people who read my blog have noticed (thanks for the pokes, prods and gentle cajoles), I’ve been awol for a while, and my lack of activity has been depressing me as much as the weather. But, just like the rain, I seemed to be stuck in a pattern I couldn’t shift. I have had several words with myself, believe me, but no matter how cross I got, the urge to write just wouldn’t come. So today, in sheer desperation, I turned to a higher authority.
Forgive me Blog God, I whimpered, head down, eyes fixed on my equally neglected toe nails, it’s been three months since my last post. Get outa here Missy, he snarled (in wild-west cowboy drawl, no idea why). Go write two posts – at least – in the next three weeks and delete all a yer 8,500 spam comments. That’ll teach ya. An while yer at it, get goin’ ag’in on that novel yer a ‘spose a be writin’. (He spits out a piece of chewed tobacco here!) What are ya anyways, a proper, practicin’, true-blooded writer, or one a those pretendy folks a jus plays a bein’ one ?
Okay, I need to stop this now before it gets out of hand and my fantasy Blog God takes over the entire post. I might come back to him sometime though. I kind of like him.
So, to cut to the chase, after my hiatus, I’m back, and I’m waving, albeit slightly sheepishly. I never even said Merry Christmas, or wished you a Happy New Year, or asked if you managed to escape the flu/norovirus/crap-present-return-itis. It was very rude of me, and I’m sorry, and I truly hope you weren’t troubled by any of these seasonal afflictions. I, thankfully, escaped them all.
I should have lied there; should have said that, actually, I had them all, back to back, inside out and round the clock. That could have been my excuse. The truth is, that whilst I haven’t been ill, or lost days queuing to return unwanted gifts, I have had to tackle a couple of unexpected curveballs of late. A decade ago, if you’d asked me to write down some challenges I might expect to face in the coming years as a wife/mother/daughter/sister/friend/working person/aspiring writer, I’m pretty sure that the recent complicated situations I’ve had to deal with wouldn’t have made the list. Not even the longlist. I’m not going to go into the details as, A, it’s genuinely too personal, and, B, it would bore the pants of you if you’re wearing any; suffice to say that recent events have affected my ability to write. So blogging was tossed out the window and my novel was stuffed under a carpet. Thankfully I didn’t flush either of them down the toilet – that would have been catastrophic.
But whilst I couldn’t write, I could still read, thank God, and as it has been my whole life through, books kept me sane. At several points in December I did start a blog post about my books of the year, but never seemed to have the time or energy to finish it. So, before the first month of 2013 slides away, I reckon it isn’t too late just yet! I read many, many books last year, some brilliant, some good, some so-so, and one or two real hum-dingers. Below are my favourites, all of which I highly recommend. I’m not reviewing them as such: there’s little or no detail of plot, characterisation or narrative structure – just a note or two on why they touched me.
MY DEBUTS OF 2012
Solace by Belinda McKeon
I read this multi-award winning debut during a writing retreat to the fabulous Tyrone Guthrie Centre in County Monaghan last February, and felt an instant connection with McKeon when I realised she’d written part of it there. As I commented in a previous post, this is an intensely emotional, yet sparingly unsentimental work of art. Genius in the making, I’d say, and I can’t wait to read more from McKeon. I like her name too! Belinda: springy, bright and individual.
This is How it Ends by Kathleen MacMahon
Oh, I just loved this. A gorgeously written, quirky, tear-jerker of a love story. The characters voices were so real, so clear, I swear at times I was hiding round a corner, eavesdropping on their actual conversations. I was lost. And I had major writing envy. McaMahon’s style is utterly effortless. I heard Kathleen read from her book at a local literary festival and was heartened to discover that her first novel, though greeted with enthusiasm from the publishing world, never actually secured a deal. This one netted her a mere €684,000. Yes, you did read that correctly. So I started to think that maybe, perhaps, just possibly, with a following wind, the same thing could happen to me with my second attempt. Of course I’d need to finish the bloody book first. Just a small hurdle!
MY eBOOKS OF THE YEAR
Folk’d by Laurence Donaghy
I downloaded Folk’d, the first book in a Science Fiction trilogy, after meeting Laurence on twitter. To tell the truth, even though I thought he was a good bloke, I wasn’t desperate to read it. Sci-Fi is not my thing, and up until that point I’d stubbornly refused to use the Kindle app on my ipad. But Danny Morrigan, Donaghy’s mishap of a hero, quickly drew me in, and before I knew it I was hooked. The book is a rollercoaster ride of madness, mayhem and surreal plot twists. But despite all the chaos, you buy into Danny’s bewildering predicament pretty quickly, and what on the surface seems ludicrously impossible suddenly becomes positively plausible. And that is the strength of Donaghy’s storytelling. It will have you roaring with laughter and reading into the wee small hours, annoying the person you share a bed with who’ll just want you to hurry up and finish the thing so they can get their hands on it! The second book in the trilogy, Folk’d Up Beyond All Recognition was released in December and is high up on my To Read list for 2013.
Poets are Eaten as a Delicacy in Japan by Tara West
I have to confess here that I know Tara. She’s a fellow Feldstein Agency author and I’ve been lucky enough to share a stage with her at a couple of literary events. I’ve always been a bit in awe of Tara as her first book, Fodder, blew me away with its honest and graphic Belfast street humour. I could have been nervous about starting Poets, as reading the work of a friend can be daunting: what if you hate it? But as I’d heard her read some extracts before she secured her e-deal with Untreed Reads, I already knew I was in for a treat. Achingly funny in places, the humour is almost Python-esqe in its brilliance. With a cast of deliciously crazy characters, poignant doses of pathos, and the tickle of mystery which trickles through the narrative, this is a dazzling second book from Tara, and, quite simply, a must-read! If you don’t fancy the kindle edition, don’t fret – it will be published by Liberties Press this autumn. Hurrah!
MY THANK YOU FOR HELPING ME THROUGH SOME SHIT STUFF BOOKS OF THE YEAR
The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling
I’m a huge JK fan. Not necessarily of her writing – at least not before I read this – but of what she did for reading. Millions of kids throughout the world fell in love with stories thanks to Ms Rowling and her Harry Potter books; kids who would most likely never have considered reading as a form of entertainment if Harry hadn’t come along. I have to confess, though, that I didn’t really read the books. I dipped in an out of them as my daughter read, then re-read every one; then read them all again. And whilst I loved the expanse of Rowling’s imagination and her radiant creativity, I wasn’t that keen on the writing. I honestly didn’t think I’d bother to read Vacancy when my husband (who did read all the Potter books and loved them) bought it to take away on a business trip. But one evening when I finished a book and, unusually, didn’t have a pile of reads-in-waiting stacked up on my bedside table, I picked it up more in desperation than anything else. I really can’t do the book justice in this brief little commentary; suffice to say that, much to his annoyance, my husband didn’t get to take it on his business trip!
The Meeting Point by Lucy Caldwell
I knew of Lucy Caldwell as she’s a successful and award winning playwright and novelist who hails from Belfast, but I’m a tad ashamed to admit that until recently, I’d never read her work. Lucy contacted me a couple of months ago after reading my last post, Deal Then no Deal, to offer some words of encouragement. I was so flattered that such an accomplished author would take the time to, A, read my blog and, B, make personal contact with me, that I cried when I read her email – proper snivelley, sobbing tears. I immediately ordered one of her books, of course: The Meeting Point, her most recent publication. I had the nervous niggle thing – what if I didn’t like it? Not because I actually knew Lucy, but because she’d been nice to me! But I needn’t have worried; The Meeting Point turned out to be compelling – a proper page turner. Beautifully written, it simmered with tension, desire, betrayal, doubt and passion. It was the last book I read in 2012, and one of the very best. Lucy’s latest book, All The Beggars Riding, will be published in a couple of weeks by Faber & Faber (February 7th, to be precise) – and mine’s on pre-order!
MY BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR
It was a toss-up between several of the above, but for surprising me, for making me laugh, cry, gasp, swear out loud using the C word, and generally consuming my mind with a world that wasn’t my own during a truly shitty time, it has to be The Casual Vacancy.
So, there you have it, my best books of last year. I hope that one or two tickle your fancy and that you’ll tell me about your own favourite reads of 2012.
As for me, I’m blowing the leaves off my blog and the dust off my own novel, and I’m back at my bus stop again. I’m cautiously hopeful about the journey ahead, excited even. Who knows, I may even put on a raincoat.