Thursday, 29 December 2011

Book and Writing Review of the Year

Everybody's doing it, of course: listing their books of the year, assessing the progress they've made with their writing, summing up 2011 as good, bad or indifferent. Everybody's looking back and looking forward as we approach that ambivalent transition point between this year and the next. So here's my contribution, as I look back over my Literascribe and Fictionfire year.

Those of you who are regular readers will know how disillusioned I've been for quite some time with the A Level system here in England and how I've struggled with the tick-box examining system and the undermining of those aspects of literature teaching I always valued. (Don't worry, I'm not going to get onto my high horse about it just now ...). This is not to say there isn't still a great deal of pleasure and fulfilment to be had from sharing my love of good books with my students and helping them to understand the hows and whys of great writing. However, it's been all the more fulfilling for me this year to have continued to develop my Fictionfire activities. I've met some lovely people and have read some fascinating manuscripts: I've done more mentoring and appraisal work than ever and I've started up the Focus Workshops, which have gone really well. At its best, a workshop or class is like a wonderful get-together with friends, all sharing and exclaiming over literary discoveries. Plus Fictionfire is my baby - when I'm raging against the dictats of this or that exam board, it matters hugely to me that I've set up, designed and run my own business my own way - and to know that there are writers whom I've helped and encouraged. It has become another form of creativity for me. Thank you to all my clients - I look forward to more enthusiasm, fun and industry in the coming year!

On Literascribe, I've interviewed writers who are tackling varied ways of getting their books out to potential readerships. This has been an amazing and often confusing year in the world of publishing. I interviewed  Bobbie Darbyshire (, who has made a great success from hand-selling her books, which are published by Sandstone Press and Cinnamon Press. I interviewed Mark Edwards and Louise Voss (, who published to Kindle so successfully that they landed a deal with HarperCollins - Catch Your Death coming out on January 5th. John Harding guest-posted (, having been published mainstream, about the challenges of ensuring 'discoverability' for his book, and Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn guest-posted back in February about publishing her novel, Pentecost, as an indie publisher: The second in her series, Prophecy, will be on Kindle any day now!

It's also been another year of buying too many books (!) and reading too few, so I want briefly to talk about my favourites of the year. I'm not picking a single Book of the Year because my reading is so eclectic it doesn't seem fair. So what have I enjoyed in 2011? In non-fiction, Jackie Kay's Red Dust Road stands out for its warmth and humour and James Attlee's Nocturne for its quirky poetic celebration of the moon. (See my blogpost here). Good reads have included historical novels (of course!) such as Arianna Franklin's The Assassin's Prayer - I'm so sad that Diana Norman (Arianna Franklin was a pseudonym) has now died and we will hear no more of her heroine, Adelia Aguilar - and C.J. Sansom's Heartstone, with its powerful depiction of the sinking of the Tudor warship the Mary Rose. I've loved re-reading Helen Dunmore's Zennor in Darkness and Ann Kelley's The Bower Bird, with their wonderful descriptions of the far west of Cornwall. In children's fiction I enjoyed Philip Webb's Six Days (my review here) and Martyn Bedford's Flip (my review here). Other damn good reads included Zoe Ferraris' fascinating and compelling City of Veils set in Saudi Arabia,  Michelle Paver's ghost story in the Arctic, Dark Matter, Rachel Hore's A Place of Secrets,  Emma Donoghue's unsettling Room, Mark Edwards' and Louise Voss's dual-narrator Killing Cupid, Linda Gillard's poignant family mystery House of Silence, and John Harding's quirky and chilling Florence and Giles (my review here: On Kindle I've caught up with books I read in childhood - all of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Martian series, for instance, and Jeffery Farnol's Black Bartlemy's Treasure, which my mother loved. I've also had the pleasure of seeing a book I helped edit, supernatural fantasy Lycopolis, published by my friend Ali Luke to Kindle.

By the way, my favourite covers of the year were those of Florence and Giles, Nocturne and Dark Matter. Follow the links above to see what you think.

Finally, it's not just a case of 'What have I read?' - it's also 'What am I going to read?' In my next post, I'll tell you about my top To Be Read titles, all jostling for precedence! In the meantime, I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and I wish you a very Happy and Totally Fulfilling New Year!

Fictionfire in 2012: 

Focus Workshops: Cracking Openings 2 (Jan 21st); A Sense of Place (Feb 4th); The Inner Lives of Characters (Feb 18th).

Fictionfire Day Courses at Trinity College: Write It! (May 19th); Edit It! (May 20th); Publish It! (May 26th); Market It! (May 27th)

Full details of these and of the mentoring, manuscript appraisal and editing services I offer are on the website:

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Announcing new Fictionfire Focus Workshops

I know we're all completely embroiled in preparations for Christmas right now, but the new year is approaching fast. A new year marks a time for new beginnings and new commitments to what we feel is important to us. If you're thinking of maintaining or renewing your commitment to the writing life, I'm delighted to announce my upcoming trio of Fictionfire Focus Workshops. I really enjoyed the autumn ones and have, I hope, come up with topics you'll be keen to explore.

Here are details of dates and topics - please cross over to the Focus Workshop page of my Fictionfire site for further descriptions of the workshops and booking information:

January 21st:      Cracking Openings 2
February 4th:      A Sense of Place
February 18th:    The Inner Lives of Characters

I hope you can join us!