So, what’s happened in the last 12 months, and what have I been up to?
Well, what a 12 months it’s been! This time last year, we had just moved from Derbyshire to Warwickshire; a huge shock to the system after almost 30 years of living in the north of England. It’s difficult moving at the best of times, let alone leaving friends behind along with all that is familiar. The move still sends a feeling of panic in me – all those boxes to unpack and not knowing what to keep in store, or where those ever-so important items that you need, right now and just this moment, are.
And who would have thought that 6 months later we’d be doing it all again? We planned to be in rented for 12 months or more, but the right house came up more quickly than expected, and here we are in, what I hope will now be, our ‘forever home’.
But that’s not all that’s changed in the past 12 months. This time last year, I didn’t have an agent, let alone a publishing deal. I had no idea of what was on the horizon – a two book deal, advance etc., were in the realms of, well yes, fiction. But yet again, here I am, and my life has changed. It still seems a long way off until I hold a physical copy of my debut in my hands. The title and cover are in a foetal state and will continue to develop. Hopefully, they will appear by September when I’ll hold that first, much looked forward to copy in my hands.
Meanwhile, of course, it feels like the world is falling apart – with those awful bushfires in Australia, and the pandemic, worrying about novels and home decorating might feel self-indulgent, but our life has to go on. So here are a few things I’d like to share:
Here are some of the books I’ve read this year
Unsheltered – by Barbara Kingsolver
One of my absolute favourite authors – The Poisonwood Bible is one of my favourite books of all time. However, I must admit, I found Unsheltered a bit slow to start with. A dual narrative, which if I’m honest was at times a little tedious, but I found it very relevant to understanding the current political situation in America: it explains a little behind the social and political polarisation in the US. However, I did much prefer the narrative that was told in the past: counting spiders with Mrs Treat on the lawn, what a character, and the theories of evolution that are discussed and interwoven between the two. Lockdown might well be the time to read a hefty 1000 page novel, but try The Poisonwood Bible, The Lacuna, or Flight Behaviour, first.
Celestial Bodies – by Jokhart Alharti.
This follows the life of three sisters from the fictional village of al-Awafi in Oman. Their lives and numerous decades of family history unspool throughout the narrative, which is told from various points of view and varying timelines. It can be a little confusing at times, but it’s a cleverly constructed novel and a fascinating insight into life in Oman. I wonder what you’ll make of the end?
The Shepherd’s Life by James Redbank
Now, who would have thought that an account of 12 months hill farming in the Lake District could be so entertaining and amusing? You must read this – it is brilliant, educational, human, endearing and very, very clever.
Circe – by Madeline Miller
I honestly think that this is going to go down as one of my favourite books of all time. Madeline Miller is a magical storyteller, who tells the story of Circe, daughter of the Sun, who is banished from the House of Helios and sent to live on a island. In isolation, she discovers the world of mortals and the power of her witchcraft. Beautifully and vividly told, I couldn’t put this down.
Three Men in a Boat – Jerome K Jerome
A timeless classic that still has relevance today. Amusing anecdotes. I can’t wait to get out and discover the pubs mentioned…
My Sister The Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite
I could not put this down. Braithwaite has a strong voice, simple language and lures you into the narrative so that you have absolute sympathy with the protagonist and her sister. Read, read, read it!
Those Who Are Loved – Victoria Hislop
For those who enjoyed The Island, and The Return, Hislop is an expert on getting you right into the heart of political history. Wonderfully told through the eyes of Themis, the second part felt a bit rushed, but a wonderful epic and I learnt so much about the Greek Civil War and WW2.
Shame – by Jasvinder Sanghera
A true and heart-rending story of one girl’s escape from a family, where honour matters far more than happiness. However, it is more than simply the tale of triumph over adversity – it is an account of how Jasvinder, who herself escaped from an arranged and forced marriage within the Sikh community, manages to set up Karma Nirvana, a sanctuary for many, many women whose fate was not as happy as hers.
Just in case you didn’t know, my debut novel is out in April 2021! I hadn’t realised how many drafts were necessary to proof read before the final copy of a novel hits the shelves. I’ve been focusing on the structural edits and line edits my editor has sent to me, and now we’re down to copy (typos etc.). Editing has taken much of my time this year, as well as writing 70, 000 words of novel two. This novel is also a historical novel, but based in Malaya on the cusp of the Japanese Invasion during WW2. I’ve been researching and writing as much as I can and it’s all coming together, slowly.
But, like many of us, when the pandemic struck home and lockdown happened, I found myself unable to write. I kept looking at the news, asking myself why or how I could do something as frivolous as write when there such terrible things are happening in the world? While the world outside has not stabilised, the writing life at home has to return to normal. And it’s good to be occupied. I’m now back at my desk, focusing and enjoying the story that is emerging – due to my editor in September, but on the shelves in 2022.
No one knows what the next 12 months will bring. But one thing I have learnt from the past year is that life can change in many exciting, new and remarkable ways. That doesn’t mean I’m being flippant about the current situation – it’s dreadful, and I feel so much for the wonderful NHS workers and for the families who have lost loved ones. Like many people, I’m missing my own family, friends, projects and activities that I had previously taken for granted.
More than anything, I hope that everyone comes out of this OK. I look forward to hearing the good things that happen in the next 12- 18 months: the new babies, new projects and successes. I’m also very excited for all the debut authors with books coming out this year – it will be hard without bookshops, supermarkets and airports, but there will be other ways to make a splash, and I can’t wait to read your novels!
And finally, I look forward to coffee with friends, catching up and hearing that everyone is OK.
Keep safe everyone.