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.

My Top 10 Books of 2015

For December, I’m taking a break from reviewing books. I’ve not stopped reading them, but in recent weeks, I’ve felt myself being a touch too critical of perfectly good books.

 

With that in mind, I’ve decided to follow the tradition that every other media outlet follows in December. Regurgitating old opinion, dusting off old content, covering it in a sprinkle of glitter and presenting it as a ‘Review of the Year’

 

Here are my Top 10 books of 2015 – there’s even some new content in here not previously on my blog!

 

  1. The One In a Million Boy by Monica Wood

 

This charming tale hasn’t been published yet, but the hardback is coming in April 2016, and it’s definitely one to keep an eye out for. My review when I first read it back in October comes across more critical than it should – but only because of the impossibly high standards I expect of books that are sent to me from the delightful @PublicityBooks at Headline publishing. More about her later.

 

  1. Losing It by Helen Lederer

 

I have a rule about the reviews I put on my blog. To avoid being accused of any kind of bias, if I’ve socially spent time with, or am in regular contact with an author then I don’t review their books. But that doesn’t mean I don’t read them.

 

This novel from funny-woman Helen Lederer about a middle-aged writer whose life seems to have stalled, while the lives of those around her flourish is the only book this year to make me snort with laughter on the underground, so earns it’s place on this list.

 

  1. Nothing But Trouble by Matt Cain

 

Another title – and the last – on the countdown that didn’t get a review of it’s own on the blog this year, but this look at the glamorous behind the scenes goings-on of popstar Lola Grant is funny and sexy as well as being so well-written, that I was shouting at the character’s as they made some dubious decisions. There was a strong anti-drugs streak through it and the main character as well, which is not the obvious route to go with a book like this.

 

  1. The Secrets We Keep by Jonathan Harvey

 

This is another one that I feel looking back I was too harsh on in my review. The acid tongue of Lynda La Hughes mixed with the plot twists of Coronation Street, what’s not to love? A pacy plot mixed with characters you actually care about makes up for the ever so slightly frustrating ending.

 

  1. My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

 

I’ve never been to New Orleans, but this book made me feel as if I had. You can feel the humidity coming off the page and it’s that sense of place that really helps this coming-of-age story succeed.

 

  1. the long way to a small angry planet by Becky Chambers

 

This science fiction novel is like somebody decided to make a list of all the things needed to make a successful mix of Douglas Adams, Red Dwarf and Star Trek – but it works. A compelling cast of characters means not only do I want another book, but I want a TV series. The upcoming Star Trek television revival, would do well to have a look at the rough nature of life in space represented here.

 

  1. Moving by Jenny Eclair

 

I liked this more than I ever thought I would, and it’s only as I write this and consider the upcoming books in the list, that I realise it’s because it’s the story of someone’s life. There’s something incredibly voyeuristic to think that come the end of the book, only one person knows the truth about everything, and that’s us, the reader. What makes this book even better is that despite Eclair’s unique personality, she manages to reign it in, giving the character’s their own distinctive voices.

 

  1. I Let You Go by Claire Mackintosh

 

I nearly gave up on this book, despite it being well written, it seemed to be meandering early on. Then there’s a development that I wasn’t expecting and it shoots the book off into a completely different direction. Well worth a read.

 

  1. A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale

 

I read this almost a year ago now, a copy of the book sent to me by @PublicityBooks – and I didn’t regret it. Harry Cane (not the footballer currently playing for Tottenham Hotspur) is a Victorian gent whose life is changed when he discovers the pleasures that other Victorian gents have to offer.

 

Like Moving, you’re fully invested in the characters, and like My Sunshine Away has a wonderful sense of place. An amazing book with a great cast of characters, this will be appearing in a lot of people’s best books of 2015 – not least the Costa Book prize who have shortlisted it in Novel category, the winner of which will be announced on 2nd January.

 

  1. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

 

There’s really not much more I can say about this book and I don’t think it will have come as any surprise to anyone that I’ve placed this at the top of the list. I’ll be re-reading it again soon, but the biggest pleasure I’ve gained from this book, is the sense of community it has engendered with other people who have read this book.

 

There’s a knowing look, a smile and a sympathetic pat on the back.

 

I always considered myself to be dead on the inside, but A Little Life had be sobbing like a child. If you don’t even squeeze out one tear while reading the ending of this, then you truly are emotionally dead.

Moving by Jenny Eclair

A few months ago I was listening to Graham Norton’s Saturday morning radio show and his guest was Jenny Eclair who was talking about her new novel: Moving.

 

The interview was a bit of hard work for a casual listener doing his housework as Jenny didn’t let her natural, bubbly personality be restrained by the medium of radio. She was loud, quick, jumping from topic to topic – and generally very funny.

When talking about the book – about an older woman going from room to room in her house as she prepares to sell it, and reminiscing about the history of each room – she talked about how she had become fascinated by buildings and the history they contained.

The novel, if I’m honest, sounded to me like there wouldn’t be much plot, and I assumed that it would be more of a series of comedic essays and tales, anecdotes and stories weaved into one through the shared history of one house. So I didn’t rush out to get a copy.

When one passed by my desk, however, my curiosity was piqued enough to slip it in my bag and take it home for a read.

Celebrity novelists as far as I’m concerned face one danger when writing their books. Namely placing themselves as the main character in their story, or by writing in the stand-up voice which is the reason I struggled with Dawn French’s books. It’s difficult to engage with a fictional character that is obviously based on a real person.

The only way it would be possible is if it’s so true to life you could believe that the events being described had actually happened to that person. So, when Dawn French’s voice came out of a sixteen year old girl on page one of her novel, I couldn’t invest in what was happening and I soon gave up.

Eclair deftly manages to avoid this trap, by simply writing about a character that is so obviously not based on herself. Of course, when Edwina pulls herself out of the bath on page one and looks at the tiny silver-haired woman in the mirror, the reader is thinking of Jenny Eclair, the name they’ve just seen displayed larger than the title on the front cover.

But the writing is of such a quality and the characterisation is so spot on that the fact that Jenny Eclair wrote this book is quickly forgotten.

Thoughts instead, turn to how long the premise can last. Edwina, despite her advancing age, rattles through the rooms of the relatively large house, that the reader is left wondering just how many rooms there will turn out to be – or indeed if the slightly senile Edwina will simply just do two or three tours of the building.

The book, though, is actually split into three sections, Edwina’s forgetful meandering, Fern’s 1980’s education and Lucas’ present day return to the city, Moving is in itself is like construction of a house.

Edwina’s tour of her crumbling town house is simply the foundation for the bricks and mortar of Fern’s experiences in Manchester and Lucas’s tales of the past are simply the furnishings of the house that is Charlie.

Charlie is the character around whom the story revolves, despite the fact that he is absent for much of it. Our three main characters define him with their tales of his life.

Mother.

Lover.

Brother.

It is only through all of them that we get a complete understanding of who Charlie was, what his story was.

The end of the book returns to Edwina to provide a coda to the story, to put a lock on the front door and leave Charlie’s story told, and then in the final few pages we learn that while it may seem over, it was simply the foundation for another story.

I enjoyed Moving much more than I thought I would, because it was well written, revealed enough to keep you satisfied, but not too much that you didn’t keep going and it made me think.

In short, Moving was moving.

(Oh, come on, you didn’t think I could resist that, did you?)