A Reading Year in Review (2018)

A bit late this – but it is STILL January, so I think its fine.

According to Goodreads, I read thirty books last year – that doesn’t seem like a lot – but when I’m ‘writing’ I do struggle to ‘read’ as well. I would never want to be accused of plagiarism so I try to steer clear of anything that might be remotely similar to what I’m currently writing. I am also exceptionally fussy about what I do and don’t read. I will give up on books if they don’t hold my attention, and it’s not very often that I go back to finish off something that I’ve abandoned.

So, what did I read in 2018?

It seems to be a strange mix of historical who-dun-its, historical fiction/fantasy, thrillers and the odd bit of fantasy. In 2017, the standout final book in Robin Hobb’s series about Fitz won the ‘best book of the year’ for me. This year, I’m going to have to nominate Lancelot by Giles Kristian as my standout book of the year.

In my review for Lancelot, I wrote,

“Lancelot is a brilliant book. I really can’t recommend it enough – but at its heart, it is also flawed. The more I think about this, the more I imagine this might have been done on purpose – a mirror image of the character, perhaps.”

I believe it will shortly be released in paperback and is really worth a read if you enjoy Post-Roman, Pre-Anglo-Saxon historical fiction.

My next favourite book of the year was The Last Hours by Minette Walters.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1760294985/ref=x_gr_w_bb?ie=UTF8&tag=x_gr_w_bb_uk-21&linkCode=as2&camp=1634&creative=6738

In my review for The Last Hours I wrote,

“The Last Hours is a wonderful book. I can’t recommend it enough. It’s been some time since something has hooked me so entirely and I was thoroughly engrossed by the characters, time period and the portrayal of the Black Death and its devastating consequences. The fact that I now want to research the time period more, is a sure sign that the novel has well and truly drawn me in.”

The sequel was released last year, which is why I read the first book, and if it doesn’t quite match up to the brilliance of The Last Hours, it does the reader a huge favour and concludes the stories for the characters in a thoroughly satisfactory way. Well worth the effort, because both books are quite weighty.

An honourable mention must go to Kin.

I began my review for this one as follows,

“This book intrigued me from the beginning – but perhaps the comments I read such as ‘no one does Vikings like this’ were slightly misleading for this particular book by the author. To begin with, I was quite confused by the direction the story was taking.”

I think the new ‘blurb’ comments are more in keeping with the nature of the story, which at heart, is a mystery. If you fancy something a little different from the usual historical murder mystery, this is well worth a read. As I said in my review ‘an intriguing idea’.

And now to fantasy.

In 2018 I read two of the books from the Self Published Fantasy Blog-Off (Or SPFBO) to give it the correct title. This is a fantastic competition run with the support of Mark Lawrence and a vast number of fantasy blog sites, where they review and nominate books that are indie published, always in the fantasy genre, and every year ‘crown’ a winner. I’ve long followed the competition because I think it’s an excellent idea.

This year I read The Grey Bastards,

“BRING ON THE ORCS . . .

Jackal is proud to be a Grey Bastard, member of a sworn brotherhood of half-orcs. Unloved and unwanted in civilized society, the Bastards eke out a hard life in the desolate no-man’s-land called the Lots, protecting frail and noble human civilization from invading bands of vicious full-blooded orcs.

But as Jackal is soon to learn, his pride may be misplaced. Because a dark secret lies at the heart of the Bastards’ existence – one that reveals a horrifying truth behind humanity’s tenuous peace with the orcs, and exposes a grave danger on the horizon.

On the heels of the ultimate betrayal, Jackal must scramble to stop a devastating invasion – even as he wonders where his true loyalties lie.”

And thoroughly enjoyed it, and also Senlin Ascends.

“The Tower of Babel is the greatest marvel in the world. Immense as a mountain, the ancient Tower holds unnumbered ringdoms, warring and peaceful, stacked one on the other like the layers of a cake. It is a world of geniuses and tyrants, of airships and steam engines, of unusual animals and mysterious machines.
Soon after arriving for his honeymoon at the Tower, the mild-mannered headmaster of a small village school, Thomas Senlin, gets separated from his wife, Marya, in the overwhelming swarm of tourists, residents, and miscreants.
Senlin is determined to find Marya, but to do so he’ll have to navigate madhouses, ballrooms, and burlesque theatres. He must survive betrayal, assassins, and the long guns of a flying fortress. But if he hopes to find his wife, he will have to do more than just endure.
This quiet man of letters must become a man of action.”
I’d considered reading Senlin Ascends in the past, but had never quite motivated myself enough to do so. Overall, I enjoyed the story. It certainly isn’t like many other fantasy books out there and does have a certain charm to it. Go read it, see what you think.
My taste of these two SPFBO titles just goes to show that there are a huge wealth of titles out there, that are more than worthy of traditional publication (which these 2 titles now have), but which are going their own route, either by choice or necessity. So bloggers and Mark Lawrence keep up the good work. http://mark—lawrence.blogspot.com/2018/06/the-official-self-published-fantasy.html
On a final note, my non-fiction book of the year is Ælfred’s Britain by Max Adams.
In my review, I wrote,
“Aelfred’s Britain is an excellent book, not confining itself to the period of Alfred’s rule but comprehensively offering an account of England from the reign of Alfred’s grandfather to the end of the reign of his youngest grandson (King Eadred) in 955. This makes it much more than a book about Alfred and rather a book about Britain and the Vikings just before, after and during The First Viking Age.”
Many may have read the author’s The King in The North book. Ælfred’s Britain far exceeds it in terms of readability and authorship. I can’t recommend it enough.
And so to 2019! Who knows what I might be reading in the coming months – hopefully, lots more historical who dun’ its, and more of Anne O’Brien’s striking female characters from centuries before the Tudors, and the odd thriller here and there. I still have the new Lee Child to read, and I have a few Vince Flynn books to catch up on as well.
(Apologies for the weird formatting at the end of this. It’s gone a bit weird).

2018 in review – (better late than never)

2018 has been an amazing year, and yet, as I think back over it, I struggle to remember all the small details that added up to make it feel so good. Even, I confess, I struggle to remember what books I wrote/published and when they all came out. This, no doubt, is because I had much of December 2018 away from the keyboard (apart from an editing job I had to do) following on from the exhaustion of nailing a ‘quite large’ word count during NaNoWriMo (or November for those not yet inducted into the world of National Novel Writing Month (The word count was bigger than the 50K NaNo suggests, but I’m not bragging about it:))).

But, perhaps, NaNoWriMo is a good place to start, because, I hope, NaNoWriMo2017 brought forth my first release of 2018. Wait. Wait! I tell a lie. NaNoWriMo2017 was a fantasy project. Sigh. Ask me about events 1000 years ago, and I’m fine. Ask me about last January and I utterly fail!

So, again.

Right, 2018 began with the release of The First Queen of England Part 2 on 24th December 2017. My next project, perhaps unsurprisingly, was The First Queen of England Part 3, released in April 2018, and the final title in The First Queen of England Trilogy, although not the last I wrote about Queen Elfrida.

With the trilogy finished, I turned my attention back to a slightly abandoned project, The Earls of Mercia. Quite frankly, I was a bit terrified. I’d not written an Earls book for some time – allowing myself to be swept along by Queen Elfrida, Lady Ælfwynn, a fantasy book and no doubt other things I now can’t remember. What made the return to the Earls all the more terrifying, is that I’d long moved on from the time period I’d studied for my dissertation, and was getting to what I would term, ‘the more complicated bit’ of the eleventh century. Even my ‘timeline’ had run out – filled only with the sporadic accounts of people’s births and deaths and little else. This is the time period (1035 onwards) which many people think they ‘know’ but which was still filled with huge potential for Leofric and his son.

In the end, I thoroughly enjoyed my return to Leofric, and Book 7 was released in July 2018. By now I’d made a monumental ‘life’ decision, and given up the ‘day job’ to turn my hand to full-time writing. This, I confess, worried the hell out of me for the first few weeks – when effectively, I wrote a book in 3 weeks flat – so desperate to prove I had the motivation and desire to succeed without the dislike of the ‘day job’ to drive me ever onwards with my writing goals.

The result was, a somewhat unexpected, return to the world of Queen Elfrida, and The King’s Mother. Purposefully designed to be a little ‘harsher’ in outlook, to give Queen Elfrida the ‘savvy’ she needed to succeed, I thoroughly enjoyed writing The King’s Mother.

So what next? In true style, I didn’t opt for the ‘easier’ option of writing the next book in The King’s Mother Trilogy but instead returned to the world of The Earls of Mercia, and The Earl’s King was released on 24th December 2018.

I’ve taught myself a few tricks when writing sequels. I used to, back in the day, immediately write a draft beginning and end for the next book when I’d finished the previous book, now, I make copious notes on the final edit, and then make even more notes on what I think should happen next – it’s normally a long list of questions and a few character names but I rely on it when I return to old projects to get the ‘feel’ right for the next book. I’ve also started ‘character’ and ‘plot’ summaries for each character. I have a little book for The Earls of Mercia, filled with characters and descriptions, and I’m not sharing it!

But that wasn’t the end of my writing. So to NaNoWriMo2018, and I gave myself (I know, how devilish) a month away from historical fiction (just about), and a month to write fantasy (my first love). I had half a novel from NaNoWriMo2017 which needed finishing, and also another idea that was making my head hurt with its desire to be written. As a back-up, I also had the sequel to The King’s Mother should my fantasy projects crash and burn.

In the end, I wrote a huge amount of words – and have two good first drafts to edit for both my fantasy projects and a small beginning on the historical fiction novel, which will be finished in February this year.

Aside from writing, I went to two author events, (daunting stuff), and met some great people, and had my work assessed by an agent at one of the events, and a publisher at another. While neither moved forward with the project, the feedback was excellent – perhaps if I didn’t write in such a ‘niche’ time-period I would fare better with publishers/agents – but hey, don’t call Anglo-Saxon England and the Viking era ‘niche’!

I also met some lovely authors at the events – all of us just about as awkward as we can be – authors, they don’t get out much you know.

As for book sales throughout 2018 – I must thank each and every reader who chose one of my titles and enjoyed it. Sales have increased, and not just because of ‘new releases’ and I step into 2019 confident that I ‘might’ (just about) finally know what I’m about and how I can achieve it – both with historical fiction and fantasy. I’m still teaming with ideas and have made no firm plans for my writing after the end of February – otherwise, I’ll be stubborn and rebel against it!

I also have a new, far flashier, website thanks to ‘tech-support’ teenager. (I would recommend that all author’s get a ‘tech-support’ teenager – although they are quite an expensive investment.)

Website

So, here’s to an exciting 2018, and hopefully, an even more thrilling 2019.

(I’m going to do a year review of books I recommend next.)