A(nother) Rambling: Majority Report

I haven’t gotten on my soapbox for a while now, so I thought it was about time I went on another rambling.

 

For the last seven weeks on the blog, I’ve been reviewing the shortlisted titles on the WHSmith Thumping Good Read award – that’s after I had the pleasure of reading over thirty books back in March to help choose the shortlist.

 

My reading style has never been the most commercial. The books that sell thousands of copies are crime, action or romance stories – they all have their merit, but they’re generally fast-paced crowd-pleasers.  There’s nothing wrong with them, this isn’t a blog about commercial vs non-commercial books – at least not in that sense.

 

The types of books I LOVE are those that slow it down and explore their characters. Their critics would say these are the books wherein nothing happens, and while that’s not exactly true, I can see their point. My favourite book – A Little Life – is well over seven hundred pages long and has plenty of plot – but a thriller writer might dispatch of those plot points in two hundred pages or so.

 

Like I say, this isn’t to pick holes in either genre – I love reading all books and all have their positive and negative points. The real reason I’m highlighting these differences is because I had never read so many commercially focused novels in such quick succession before and it really brought something home to me.

 

For Thumping Good Read, publishers were asked to submit their best books, the page-turners that readers just wouldn’t be able to put down. Those brilliant books that people who don’t read would want to read. It’s a prize for people that don’t want to read a hard-going tome like A Little Life – or this blog post, the way it’s going.

 

In those thirty plus books – and I’m not going to name names, they were all wonderful books, and dismissing any of them was extremely hard – I can count the number of gay characters on one hand.  The three that I stumbled across were – 1) a dead body 2) a cardboard cut-out best friend 3) closeted until page 223.

 

The number of ethnic minorities were fewer: One.

 

ONE.

 

Ok, so that one’s slightly disingenuous. A majority of the time race wasn’t explicitly mentioned for many of the characters, but there were clues.

 

Perhaps I was reading them as white – projecting my own societal expectations and unconscious racism onto the fiction that the author had written.  It’s possible, but there was at least one occasion where I read a main character as black – only for, three quarters of the way through the book for the author to make a point of highlighting the character’s milky white skin.

 

If I could read that character as being from a BAME background, why couldn’t I have read others in the same way? It’s just as possible as me reading them as white, that they were written white.

 

Some of my favourite books of the last couple of years contain representatives from minorities – Guy Gunaratne’s In Our Mad and Furious City, John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies, Sarah Winman’s Tin Man and the up-coming Take Nothing With You from Patrick Gale. These books exist – but they haven’t all broken into bestseller lists, and perhaps more tellingly, they’re not being submitted for a book prize that in its very mission statement is looking for commercial books.

 

Even as I write this, I can see that these books are skewed towards my own interests, mirror aspects of my own life. Perhaps the simple reason commercial books are mostly white and mostly straight is because most of the book-buying public is mostly white and mostly straight?

 

Representation is important. Recognising yourself in a character is a shortcut into understanding a novel – but so is learning about other people, other cultures, it’s how we learn about the world, develop our empathy.

 

With all this in mind where are the commercial novels serving these minorities? Why are we making it so hard for their voices to be heard?

 

Is it because publishing is full of straight white people, publishing straight white people for straight white people to read?

 

As someone on the inside of the business I can tell you this – while publishing is very white, it’s not very straight, so there must be something else at play.

 

Perhaps the state of the economy has led us as an industry to become risk-averse. We look at the bestseller lists, see what people are buying ask for more of it, then flood the market with it.

 

Customers are looking for good books, at the end of the day that’s all they really want, and I believe that most of them are grown-up and educated enough to be able to read and enjoy a book that doesn’t match their own demographic.

 

We – the publishing industry – are unconsciously discriminating (and I do think in many cases it is unconscious – we’re not horrible bigots) and so we need to start consciously changing the things that we can control.

 

From authors to agents, editors to publishers, retailers to reviewers we need to start championing the books we all love and not just dismiss them as ‘uncommercial’. We need to have more faith in readers.

 

It’s also worth noting – that of the four characters I identified above from the thirty plus books, three of them ended up on the Thumping Good Read shortlist. Even those that were thin cardboard cut-outs helped add a difference, a richness to the worlds they were introduced in, helped their books stand just above the others.

 

I know that I’m going to start mixing things up in the books and stories I write – even if all that means is I stop referring to girls with milky skin and blue-eyed boys…

A(nother) Review: The House of Hopes and Dreams by Trisha Ashley

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, this might at first appear to be a bit of a left-field choice for me to read, but I like to keep my reading tastes broad and try all genres from time to time.

 

The House of Hopes and Dreams is about a glass architect named Angel who suddenly finds herself bereaved – and simultaneously out of a job. She moves in with her best friend – TV host Carey who has just unexpectedly inherited a large country estate. Mossby is an old house in desperate need of some love and attention, and the two broken-hearted friends set about fixing it and uncovering the house’s many secrets.

 

I was really surprised about this book, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. Initially, I thought it was going to be largely a love story, and while there are elements of this in there, it ended up – as the title suggests – being more about the house itself.

 

It becomes a character in its own right throughout the story, and as a reader, you start to feel satisfaction with each step they take in restoring it to it former glory.

 

The two main characters Angel and Carey are engaging and you really start to root for them, even if perhaps Angel does move on from the death of her partner perhaps a little too quickly. That may be my biggest criticism of this book, but it is indicated early on that since his stroke eighteen months previously, Julian wasn’t really himself, and that in reality she had been grieving for him since then.

 

It was a bit of a stretch for me, but if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief and see past the small things, you can enjoy the story for what it’s meant to be.

 

This is a story about moving on, about love and friendship. And about a house.

 

Some of the books I would say are my favourites (A Little Life, Tin Man)are those thay have made me cry, dug into the emotion inside and opened the well.

 

This isn’t that sort of book, but it taps into a different kind of emotion. It makes you feel good, positive. It digs into you in a different way and still worth a read.

 

The House of Hopes and Dreams is available now from Bantam Press

A(nother) Review: Take Nothing With You by Patrick Gale

I’m now into my fifth year of blogging my book reviews and while I always thought the biggest problem with it would be trying to avoid giving too many spoilers I have now discovered a new problem.

 

I’ve spent much of the last few years banging on about three different books all of which have been my go-to titles whenever anyone asks for a reading recommendation – A Little Life, Tin Man and Patrick Gale’s A Place Called Winter.

 

Since I first fell in love with A Place Called Winter back at the beginning of 2015 I’ve become a bit of a champion of Gale’s work, both his books and his recent television series (2017’s Man in an Orange Shirt). I even highlighted his new novel as one of my books to look out for in 2018.

 

So, when special advance copies of Take Nothing with You started to head out into the world, I crossed all my fingers and auctioned off my first-born (pity that devil who’ll never receive their purchase) hoping to get a copy.

 

And I received a copy, and it was beautiful and I was very, very excited.

 

Then I realised my problem.

 

Whenever anyone has a big success be it with a book, or film, or album there is a pressure on the artist to produce something equally as good, but not the same, the next time around.

 

The anxiety that brings must be crippling, sending your book out into the world waiting for the reaction like a small dog patiently waiting for their owner to return home.

 

I had a taste – only a very small taste – of that, when I settled down to read Take Nothing With You. What if I didn’t like it? What if I was the one that had to kick the puppy?

 

With some trepidation, I opened the pages and started to read. After about ten pages, I breathed a sigh of relief. It was good. Not just good. It was as good as A Place Called Winter – if not better.

 

So now, I’m stuck with my original problem. How do I sell it to you all without spoiling it? How do I talk about all the things I want to talk about without ruining it for everyone? The answer is to keep it brief.

 

We meet Eustace at a particular point in his life, he’s in his fifties, he’s fallen in love with a man he’s never met and has just been diagnosed with cancer. Part of his treatment involves taking a particularly radioactive drug which mean he must spend time in solitary confinement, away from everyone.

 

He will be so radioactive that he must take nothing with him that he would want to keep.

 

So, he goes in with just a cheap music player and a playlist of cello music from his best friend Naomi. He lies down, begins to listen, and then remembers – taking the reader with him – his childhood, growing up in Weston-Super-Mare.

 

And here is where the magic happens.

 

Such beautiful writing transports us into the head of that twelve-year-old boy as he deals with his own burgeoning sexuality, the breakdown of his parent’s marriage and an exploration of an unexpected new passion – the cello.

 

I could sing for hours about the poetry of the writing or the subtlety of the plot but it is in the richness of the characters that Gale really excels himself. Each character, no matter how minor, is vivid leaving the reader wanting more.

 

In most books the main characters are obvious, their depth making them stand out from all others, a clue to the reader as to which characters you should care about, which ones you should watch, and which ones you don’t need to remember the name of.

 

That’s not the case here. In the moments they appear all the characters are important, all of them real. None of us can know as we’re living our lives who will be important and who won’t be, and so to Eustace at the time he encounters them they are all important. The things he notices, the people he sees, all of it helps us as a reader inhabit his world.

 

I’ve never read a book before where the minor characters have intrigued me quite so much.

 

A Little Life was about Malcolm, JB, Willem and Jude St Francis; The Time Traveler’s Wife was about Henry DeTamble and his wife Clare; Tin Man is the story of Annie and Michael and Ellis. All of these names are imprinted on me in a way that I can reel them off without having to look them up.

 

This book takes its place amongst all of those titles (equal on my spreadsheet – OF COURSE I have a spreadsheet – to The Time Traveler’s Wife) in my list of favourite books, and while Eustace’s name will come to me as readily as all those others, I think the names of Vernon and Carla Gold and Turlough and Jez won’t be far behind him.

 

They all have their own tales to tell, but this is Eustace’s and the whole experience felt as cathartic to me as it did for Eustace himself. Perhaps because – as many other readers will probably experience – so many of the moments in his earlier life are similar to mine. I won’t share with you what they were – they’re for my own private lead-lined box – but I will tell you… I never played the cello.

 

Take Nothing With You will be published by Tinder Press on 21st August 2018

A(nother) Review: The Party by Elizabeth Day

Back at the end of November, some of you will remember I ran a little twitter tournament to find Twitter’s book of 2017.

 

The list was compiled from my favourite books of the year, some notable prize winners that I hadn’t read, and then rounded off with a couple of suggestions from Ginge and The Scottish One (names changed to protect the guilty)

 

The tournament was won by Matt Haig and How to Stop Time after a close battle with Adam Kay’s This Is Going to Hurt in the final, but I was ashamed to say that a book I hadn’t read had made the semi-finals.

 

I immediately sought out a copy of The Party by Elizabeth Day to rectify the fact (after telling Ginge off for not recommending it to me earlier) – and I’m glad I did. Had I read it earlier in the year, it would have easily made my 2017 Top Ten.

 

So, what’s it about?

 

Martin Gilmour is being interviewed by the police, they’re keen to find out more about what happened at the party he’d spent the evening at. The party was held by his best friend Ben Fitzmaurice and his wife Serena, while Martin attended with his wife Lucy. It wasn’t just an average house party, it was a big sumptuous occasion one that even the Prime Minister was rumoured to show up to.

 

And something went down.

 

We don’t know what, though. Instead we learn about the events of the party and the relationship between Martin and Ben in four ways – Martin’s police interview, flashbacks to Martin’s POV at the party, Lucy’s diary entries some time after the event and flashbacks to Martin and Ben’s school days.

 

With no real family of his own, Martin grew to see Ben as a brother, but is that view reciprocated or is it a classic case of the popular kid surrounding himself with yes men? Martin is known as LS – Little Shadow – so perhaps that gives you some clue, but as a reader, it was hard to know where this book was going to go. It kept you guessing, not just about what happened at the party, but about the true nature of the relationship between the two men.

 

Last week, I wrote about ‘writing about what you know’ – the opposite is true with reading, you should always try to read what you don’t.

 

I don’t have any real straight male friends, most of them that I socialise with are colleagues or partners of my close female friends. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why books about male friendships have always been some of my favourites (Tin Man, A Little Life), but here that was just one aspect of a very good book.

 

The book also explores through both Martin and Lucy, the nature of their marriage, her desire for kids, his desire for none, and ultimately that plays an important part. All of this takes place against the backdrop of the party. The party, the house, the school the boys went to, are all richly described, the bit players, the supporting characters are all solidly built, they seem real, but they don’t pull focus from our main trio.

 

If I had one criticism it would be that we don’t delve into the emotional side of things as much as I’d like to. A lot of stuff happens to Martin and Lucy, and I feel that we were kept apart from some of that – but at the same time, that is the nature of Martin’s character, a little bit detached, a little bit cold. This was likely done intentionally to put the reader into Matin’s mindset.

 

This makes for a great read, the type you’ll want to devour in one sitting, and a lot of people probably will when the paperback is released in April.

 

The Party is published by Fourth Estate and is available now in Hardback

A(nother) Review: My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

What makes a good book?

 

(Yes, that’s right, I’ve gone for a nice easy blog this week).

 

There’s literally (and literary) a whole industry out there full of self-proclaimed experts – of which I am one. The thing is, we’re all readers, and like every other reader out there we all like very different books.

 

So how do we spot a good book?

 

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent is the tale of Turtle Alveston. She is fourteen years old and knows how to use every single gun on her wall. She lives alone with her abusive father in a small backwater town in America.

 

She is a unique child, almost feral in a way, and we spend a summer with her, the last summer of her childhood, getting to know her, as she learns there is more to life than shooting guns with her father and playing cribbage with her grandfather.

 

It has all the signs of a good book. It’s well written, the characters are rich and real, there is a distinct plot running through it with an ending that while satisfying doesn’t quite tie everything up in a neat fairy tale bow.

 

It’s an odd journey that Turtle goes on – at one point she manages to get herself stranded on an island at high tide and must survive there. It all becomes a bit Huckleberry Finn, which the characters themselves acknowledge.

 

The book is quite episodic in some respects, meaning it is easy to dip in and out of – which is a bit of a relief, since at times the themes it explores are pretty challenging.

 

So far, so good, it’s got all the signs of a good book, and if you were to ask me if it reminded me of any other books, I’d say yes. It made me think of Sal – a book published next year, which I really enjoyed – and it made me think of A Little Lifewhich most of you will know is my absolute favouritest book ever.

 

So it must be a good book then?

 

I can only answer yes.

 

But did I enjoy it?

 

I can only answer no.

 

For me, there was something missing from the book which stopped me from engaging with it properly. Looking back on it now, and when telling people about it, it’s tricky for me to put my finger on why I didn’t enjoy it.

 

I feel like I did enjoy it, I can find no reason why I didn’t, but when I was reading it, I was wishing it would end, that I could read something else. Something better.

 

And it’s not to do with the subject matter. Many other books that I love – particularly A Little Life – could be described as unrelentingly grim, but in those books I experienced emotions. I was moved.

 

With My Absolute Darling, I didn’t feel any of that. On paper, it ticks all the boxes, but in practice, it just didn’t connect.

 

And that’s the thing we’re all trying capture and stuff into a bottle. That something extra. The special combination of the right book and the right reader.

 

That little bit of magic can take even the worst of books and make it into an excellent book, but the best of books without that little bit of extra magic? It will never be better than good.

 

 

A(nother) Book Review: Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler

In between getting to read books that are coming out next year and trying to keep up with the incredible books that suddenly just appear on the shelves with no prior warning, sometimes I can miss a few hidden gems.

 

If I’m lucky, some of them will find their way back to me.

 

Occasionally, it’s just a passing conversation, but when someone goes to the effort of placing a copy on your desk – and another person tells you how good said book is – it feels like the great librarian in the sky is telling you to read it.

 

This is what happened with Shotgun Lovesongs.

 

First published in 2013, it shows us the lives of four men who grew up together in a small town in Wisconsin. We are first introduced to Hank – sometimes Henry – who introduces the reader to Lee, his childhood best friend who is now rock superstar Corvus.

 

Over the course of three weddings – Kip’s, Lee’s and Ronny’s – we learn how the four lives interact with each other over the various years.

 

There are obvious parallels for me to draw at this point between Shotgun Lovesongs and A Little Life.

 

They both concern themselves with the relationships between four male friends over a long period of their lives, but the trauma that we live through in A Little Life is a million miles away from the lives we observe in Shotgun Lovesongs.

 

Aside from four male leads, and the overall theme of love between male friends, the two are quite different.

 

A Little Life pulls you into the characters lives but the setting and even the time period of the story is unimportant, neglected even. That works for that book, though, because you are there with the characters. You are the fifth friend in the friendship group.

 

With Shotgun Lovesongs you are very aware of both the time and the place. It’s a neat trick for a writer to pull off when they can make you feel the temperature of a location in just a few sentences.

 

Nickolas Butler performs this trick with ease and it’s this sense of atmosphere that pulls you into the world of this small town America. The characters themselves are less well-drawn than those in Yanagihara’s opus, but the novel still works well.

 

Like A Little Life the main narrative is dominated by one particular relationship, however the conflict between the Lee and Henry is never fully resolved to this reader’s satisfaction.

 

Comparisons to A Little Life are difficult not to make – despite Shotgun Lovesongs being published first and any book would suffer for it, however this stands up admirably.

 

I just sort of wish I’d read it first – I think I would have enjoyed it even more than I did.

A(nother) Review: The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne

             One of the problems of being vocal about having a favourite book is that often people give you books that ‘you’ll love – it’s just like A Little Life’.

 

Here’s the thing, if I wanted to read a book just like A Little Life, I’d just read A Little Life – anything else runs the risk of just being a pale imitation.

 

So when two people suggested I read The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne for that very reason, I was pretty skeptical. When the person who I share my love of A Little Life told me it was nothing like it, my skepticism turned to indifference and the book was placed onto the windowsill of perpetuity. So-called because once a book ends up on there, it can take some time before I take it off – if I ever do.

 

However, I did promise to read it while on a break from work, and in truth, it was the perfect time. The Heart’s Invisible Furies is quite a tome at over six hundred pages long, so with a fortnight of downtime looming, I thought I had just the right opportunity.

 

As it was, I didn’t need a fortnight.

 

The Heart’s Invisible Furies tells the story of Cyril Avery from just before birth, right through to his seventieth year in 2015.

 

Cyril is the result of an affair between Catherine and an older man, a scandal in her hometown of Goleen. The parish priests of Ireland in 1945 didn’t look too kindly on children born out of wedlock and Catherine was banished from her village.

 

In Dublin, Catherine gives up her child and gains a job at the Dáil Éireann, the Irish parliament. Cyril is given to an odd couple – the Avery’s – who seem to have only wanted a child in the same way that a person might want an ornament for their shelf.

 

We check in with Cyril every seven years of his life, and each part seems to be a self contained story – this is similar to how A Little Life is constructed, which, at times feels like lots of small stories sewn together.

 

However in most other elements, it is quite different. A Little Life was timeless, no doubt a modern day story, but with no elements that could specifically date it. The Heart’s Invisible Furies is quite pointedly set at a specific time and place in history.

 

As well as being the story of Cyril Avery, it is the story of the progression of gay rights in Ireland, of how far things have changed over the course of seventy years, while A Little Life is a story about the relationships between men both physical and emotional, it doesn’t necessarily dwell on the sexuality of the main characters.

 

For these differences, it actually doesn’t feel right to compare the two books. So, for now, I’ll stop.

 

The Heart’s Invisible Furies is an engrossing story, which somewhat relies on coincidence and happenstance to make it’s point. This, when combined with the seven-yearly structure, does give the reader a slight detachment.

 

It is hard to inhabit a character’s mind-set when some of the more dramatic moments of his life happen at the end of a chapter, before a leap forward in time of seven years. The emotions that Cyril must have felt, the grief, are not delved into in any great focus, instead we are exploring the next part of his life.

 

This is ok. The reason I’m dwelling on it, is that It kind of works without the need to dive into those feelings. The ending is pretty emotional, it elicits a tear or two without being too sentimental.

 

I said it’s hard to inhabit his mind-set, but Boyne achieves the emotional connection with the character without exploring those feelings, because we know without having to read it, exactly how Cyril would react. I can’t help but wonder how deep that connection would be if we had lingered a little on some of those big moments.

 

The last thing to say about this book is the humour. It could have been po-faced. It covers topics such as abuse, rape, prostitution, murder, homophobia, abandonment… It could have been so miserable, however there are some truly funny bits in it. Sustained laugh out loud moments, that make you realise just how un-funny books be.

 

So, here’s the thing. Why have people been comparing this to A Little Life if they’re so different? Well, maybe they’re not that different after all.

 

While covering different themes – and doing them in different ways – there is a connection between them. They’re not identical, but they are, I guess, cousins. They sit well together, and anyone has enjoyed the former, will definitely enjoy the latter.

 

Book of the year? Maybe. Probably. I’m going to stop commenting on that, because I’m starting to look stupid.

 

The Heart’s Invisible Furies is published by Doubleday and is available now

The One by John Marrs

It seems every January I read a book that I absolutely love and can’t put down.

 

Two years ago, I declared Patrick Gale’s A Place Called Winter my book of the year (regular readers will know it was just pipped to the post by A Little Life), and last year Chris Cleave’s Everyone Brave is Forgiven retained the book of the year post right through to the end of the year.

 

The one for 2017 is The One by John Marrs, and while I’m stopping short of prematurely crowning it my book of the year, it is certainly a contender.

 

The One is set in a world where your soul mate can be determined through a DNA test. A company has discovered the gene and is charging people for the contact details of the loves of their lives – which is a wonderful business model.

 

The whole thing hinges on your partner having taken the test, however, and while some people get a result in a matter of days, others wait for weeks and months, even years.

 

We follow five very different people, all of whom have different reasons for taking the test.

 

Mandy is just getting over the break-up of her marriage; Christopher is a psychopath who took the test on a whim; Jade is a young girl looking for the love of her life; Nick is encouraged to take the test by his fiancée prior to their wedding; Ellie is a high powered businesswoman who seems to have no time for love in her life.

 

The book is constructed so that we get a small chapter (and I mean small, some are only two or three pages long) from each character’s view point, before moving on to the next. This makes it an incredibly easy read, because if you find any character dragging, it’s ok, because another one will be along soon.

 

Having said that, because of this it is a little difficult to invest in the characters. On consideration, however, the writer has done a good job of keeping erroneous detail out of those chapters. They’re packed full with detail and not a single word is wasted.

 

Each story is largely unrelated, although they do follow a similar theme, and brush up against each other occasionally. They all take very different paths and each one of them is quite believable, despite some moments that are a little larger than life.

 

I looked forward to reading this each time I picked it up, and I found myself staying up late on more than one occasion to just read a little bit more. Despite a few moments towards the end, it did lack a bit of emotional punch, although they were some truly gasp out loud moments.

 

This is one of those books that I would recommend to almost anyone. People who don’t read very often will find it accessible, while voracious readers will be able to consume quickly, but find enough intrigue and thought provoking questions to help whet their appetite.

 

I’d love to explore some of the stories a bit deeper (particularly Nick and Christopher’s) – and can’t help but feel this would make a great television series – think Tuesday night anthology series like The Syndicate or similar and you’ll get the idea.

 

Is The One the one for 2017? I’d like a bit more of an emotional impact, so I’m going to hold off for not, but it is certainly one of the ones.

 

The One by John Marrs is published in May by Del Rey

I Take You by Eliza Kennedy

I’m starting off my 2016 reading by picking some books that I might not usually go for. Right at the top of the list was I Take You by Eliza Kennedy for no other reason than that it was one of the most recent ones to pass by my desk.

 

This is typical chick-lit. Or at least I thought it was.

 

I have read chick-lit before, but not really anything like this.

 

At first I thought that main character Lily Wilder was a cross between Samantha Jones (off of Sex and the City) and Ally McBeal (off of, well… Ally McBeal). But after a while I realised, this was a character conceived in the post-Lena Dunham world – although it is entirely possible this view point is coloured by the fact I’ve just started watching Girls for the first time.

 

Lily is a lawyer, good at her job, but neurotic about it (hello Calista Flockhart), but where she is confident and open in her life is in her sex life, a woman with a voracious sexual appetite (stand up, Kim Catrall).

 

Where Dunham comes into it though, is the author isn’t afraid to go there. The climatic scene of the whole plot is literally that, with the conversation taking place between blowjobs in the hotel bedroom and doing it doggy-style in the bathroom.

 

Let’s pause the sex for a moment and take a look at the plot.

 

Lily is getting married to Will. Will is perfect for her, except they’re rushing into marriage and something doesn’t feel quite right. Throw in that she’s sleeping with every man she encounters, single handedly defending an oil company from a massive compensation claim, and dealing with her father sleeping with all three of his ex-wives and Lily is having quite an eventful week.

 

It’s hard to say whether I liked this book or not. It made me laugh out loud on several occasions, and although the plot was a little ridiculous in places, it was definitely written with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

 

The sex WAS sexy (for those of you that are into that sort of thing) but did feel out of places (sometimes not so much tongue-in-cheek as… well, you know where I’m going with that one.

 

The plot seemed to lurch from one disaster to another, and there seemed to hang on a lot of coincidences. A huge storm and a treacherous colleague meant that Lily ended up working on her own with her gran’s help.

 

There were a huge number of characters, none of whom felt particularly well drawn – apart from Lily herself, who did maddeningly stupid things – although, at least these were picked up and pointed out by the other characters.

 

It took me a little while to read, it wasn’t the kind of book that I felt I had to return to every day, but when I did, I slipped back into it quite comfortably.

 

But did I like it?

 

Honestly, I’m not sure. But that’s why I’ve created a spreadsheet to help me work out if I like a book or not. I’m a fan of a spreadsheet.

 

From here-on, each book I read will be rated on several criteria – resulting in an average score out of five. This will also help me compile a proper Top 10 at the end of this year, instead of the hand picked one I created last year.

 

I like a chart.

 

I’m (probably) not going to go back and re-rate books I’ve read before, but to give you an idea on how the scale works I went back and re-rated two books from last year.

 

The one I liked the least Girl on the Train scored 1.4 on the scale out of 5 and A Little Life scored 4.6 – which is likely the closest we’re going to get to a perfect score.

 

I Take You by Eliza Kennedy is out now in Hardback and kicks off the new chart with a respectable 2.8 out of 5.

Accidental Resolutions

I’ve spent the last six months or so reading a shit load of books. And with it, I’ve been writing reviews of them. One review a week, written as much for me as they were for anyone else.

 

But, in case anyone was interested, I published them on my blog – this blog – and I did all the correct social media stuff. I had a brand, a regular time, I tagged the authors, the publishers, the publicists and made as many references to pop culture (Justin Bieber, One Direction, etc) to try and boost the number of page hits.

 

It sort of worked, page views and visitors increased every month from July through to December, and while some of the numbers came from people directly clinking on the links I put on Twitter, I was starting to see a lot of traffic from search engines.

 

I can’t see what the search term was when people come through from Google (and perhaps unsurprisingly, that seems to be the search engine most people use), but I can from other search engines. So I plugged in some of the terms myself.

 

  • The one that came up most was Jude St Francis – the main character of A Little Life (my favourite book of the year, and incidentally the post that had the most views across the year).

 

A Little Life was one of the big hits of 2015, one of the most talked about books of the year, so I was surprised to find that my post about it was getting traffic. Surely there must be a million posts out there just like mine?

 

When I typed Jude St Francis into Google – a link to my blog was the first result. Now a month or two later, it’s the second link. This was a huge surprise, I’m not sure how it happened, but it did.

 

Moving by Jenny Eclair is fast proving to be my second most popular post, and when I put that into Google, I discovered mine was the fifteenth link.

 

I’m not sure what I’m doing, but it seems to be working.

 

Last week, I was looking at my ‘Yearly Stats’ on WordPress and discovered I was only sixty views away from hitting two thousand for the year. I was excited to see how close I would come and so re-posted a few links.

 

I nearly made it. I was fifteen views short. One extra day would have done it.

 

And then I stopped to think. Two thousand views in a year, and I only started regularly posting in July. A little bit of quick maths tells me that I could hit four thousand views a year – or more – if I posted regularly.

 

Whether that’s an audience of one, reading things four thousand times, or four thousand individual people, I don’t know, but that’s a big number,. And some of them, I know, are reading more than one page at a time.

People are choosing to read what I write – and some of them, likely, even if it’s just that one maniac, are coming back to read more.

 

I’d considered self-publishing before, but it’s never really appealed to me, even in this world of self-made internet billionaires like EL James. I never thought I would have the energy or the presence to be able to sell an ebook online.

 

But a few things occurred to me last week:

  1. I have an established audience (even if it’s only one stalker)
  2. I write because I like to write, not because I want to make money (although if anyone offered me some, that would be great)
  3. I write well to deadlines.

 

And so I decided two things:

  1. I would publish my already written novel Memories of a Murder on my blog
  2. By the end of 2016, I would write the second novel, already largely planned – a sequel to Memories of a Murder.

 

The first part of Memories of a Murder will be published next week… just as soon as I’ve blown the cobwebs off of it.