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Welcome to The Literary Pig's blog - a safe haven for all those afflicted with
the unbearable urge to write.

Monday, 16 January 2017

What I read last year ...

Last year (2016) I read a total of 46 books (includes non-fiction and short story collections/anthologies). This is accurate because I keep a separate notebook to record all the books I read, often with additional comments to remind me of what I loved (or hated) about them. As a writer I agree with Stephen King that you should "Read, read, read" long before you ever start writing, and I thought this was probably about the usual number of books an average reader gets through in a year. So I was shocked by Grumpy Old Bookman's feature in January's Writing Magazine, where he quoted literary agent Jonny Geller telling the Guardian that "... the average person reads between one and five books a year." This was after the Bookman revealed from a report in the International Publishers Association that "British Publishes released  184,000 new and revised titles in 2013", which equates to "roughly twenty new titles every hour." Even if I took up the GoodReads challenge to read 100 books in 2017, I'd still fall well short of keeping up with new books coming out each week. I haven't set any reading goals for this year as I believe reading is something you should want to do, not feel obliged or pressured to do (whether you write for a living or not).

Here's LitPig showing off six of my top reads from 2016. You can see I'm struggling to keep up with current releases as many of these have been out for some time, but often I pick up a book because of a friend's recommendation. Luckily, my friends have exceedingly good taste ...

Station Eleven, Emily St John Mandel - a wonderful post-apocalyptic novel weaving past and future together with exceptional prose. This is the book I WANT to WRITE!
Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier - a retelling of Homer's Odyssey set at the end of the US Civil War (the film with Nicole Kidman and Jude Law does a pretty good job of recreating the novel). Sublime writing and storytelling.
A Robot in the Garden, Deborah Install - a charming, gentle and often comic novel. I dare anyone to read this and not fall in love with Tang the robot.
Merivel, Rose Tremain - concluding Robert Merivel's life-story after Restoration set in the reign of Charles II. Sir Rob is one of my all-time favourite literary characters and as with Restoration this is a novel I will re-read many times.
A Spool of Blue Thread, Anne Tyler - master of the 'quiet' novel, Anne Tyler is quite simply a genius.
The Bones of You, Debbie Howells - a gripping, page-turning psychological thriller which I read in one afternoon. Enjoyed this even more because I recognised the local setting, as the author literally lives down the road from me.

Here's a selection of other books I'd enjoyed (in order of reading):
Longbourn, Jo Baker
Tastes Like Fear, Sarah Hilary
Writing for TV and Radio, Sue Teddern & Nick Warbuton
The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, Joanna Cannon
Burial Rites, Hannah Kent
The Woman in Blue, Elly Griffiths
Deadly Elections, Lindsey Davis
The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins
The Ice Twins, S K Tremayne
The Shut-Eye, Belinda Bauer
Doctor Sleep, Stephen King
Beyond Black, Hilary Mantell
If I were a River, Amanda Saint
Last Rituals, Yrsa Sigurdardottir
Into the Woods, John Yorke
Reasons to Stay Alive, Matt Haig
Lightbox, KJ Orr
The Colour, Rose Tremain
Llama Sutra, Melanie Whipman
Mr Mercedes, Stephen King

Like any sensible control freak I also keep a record on my GoodReads account and often leave review/comments there. Wherever possible I try to upload a review onto Amazon if I enjoyed a book, as I believe that helps the writer just as much as buying their book in the first place.

Did you also read any of the above? What were your favourite reads of 2016? Please share ...

Monday, 2 January 2017

Goodbye 2016 ...

Happy New Year to all followers! I hope 2017 has started well for you. LitPig has a feeling in his trotters that 2017 is going to shine brightly for us all. I'm still pondering on writing goals for this year and to be honest I can't commit to anything until I've met Wendy for our first planning session, which is an annual tradition I look forward to. But before setting out new goals it's wise to revisit the year just passed. I've focused on five topics for 2016 ...
1. The year of two novels
I started and finished first draft of my new crime mystery novel (with a supernatural edge) within 6 months, then went on to complete re-writes and edits before the end of the year. A number of literary agents have called in the manuscript, but I've yet to receive a positive offer. The same novel was shortlisted for the Festival of Writing (FOW) Best Opening Chapter competition and also reached the final stages for Flash 500 Novel competition. I also sought advice on my first novel (contemporary upmarket fiction) from a book doctor (editor) at the FOW. She 'got' the novel and made some very positive comments on my writing, yet suggested as it was a 'quiet' novel it was unlikely to attract the attention of an agent seeking a commercial debut. Consequently, I've decided to rest the first novel and focus on securing a deal for the crime novel. Let's see what I can achieve in 2017 ...
2. Queen of the shortlists
From my tracking spreadsheet I've counted up 67 writing competitions entered (13 still being judged), some were FREE to enter but many required an entry fee. I did make the podium for several competitions earning a total of £180, which didn't cover the costs. However, I came very close and feel I deserve to be crowned Queen of the Shortlists for 2016. Here's a sample of shortlists I made it on to: HE Bates, Soundworks audio Play, Exeter Story Prize, Brighton Prize, Words With Jam, National Flash Fiction Day Micro and the Willesden Herald Prize. I failed to get anywhere with: Bridport, Bristol, Bath or Bedford competitions, so maybe in future I need to avoid any beginning with B. I was delighted to make the long list for Thresholds Feature competition (essay on Roald Dahl's collection The Umbrella).
3. Publications
For once I earned more from sales of short stories to magazines/anthologies than from competition prizes. One top moment was seeing my story Footprints (with an original illustration) in Popshot magazine (read more here). Other stories have been published in Willesden Herald New Short Stories 9A box of stars beneath the bed, Rattle Tales 4, Day of the Dead (Black Pear Press) and Take-a-break Fiction Feast. I was very pleased to be part of Suzanne Conboy-Hill's initiative Let me tell you a story - you can read more here.
4. Outings with writers
After completing my MA in Creative Writing I wanted to continue investing in my writing education and decided one way was to attend as many events as I could. The wonderful benefit of this is meeting new writers and in 2016 my circle of writing friends has expanded to include some lovely and talented people. I realise that I'm now keeping in touch with writers I met from every event I attended, which included: Paul McVeigh's Killer First Chapter Workshop, The Beach Hut Writing Academy's Write on the Beach conference (read more), Winchester Writers' Conference, Festival of Writing, Lewes Short Story Club, Vanessa Gebbie's short story workshop at Railway Land (read more). I also read at Rattle Tales back in February and got to the prize giving events for Brighton Prize (oodles of bubbly!) and Willesden Herald Prize. A real treat was the 1-day Masterclass in Advanced Structure with John Yorke at the London Screenwriter's Festival (read more). Every quarter I try and get to Melanie Whipman's Live Lit events in Surrey (read more), where there's always a great bunch of people eager to hear short stories/flash/novel extracts and poetry read aloud by the authors. And I got to meet a virtual friend for real in beautiful Bath - read more here.
5. Academia
Last but not least I graduated (with Distinction) from Chichester University with an MA in Creative Writing. And I count my blessings every month when I get together with my workshop group - I met them all on my MA.

What are you proud of achieving in 2016? Please share, we all love to hear good news and success stories.