Retrospective: 2014

new-years-books

As I have already noted in my book recommendations post, this was the year that I became a book blogger. Over the course of 2014 I have read and reviewed sixty-six books, abandoned a further two that failed to hold my interest and, as the year draws to a close, am part way through one more.

I was feeling rather pleased with myself over these numbers so I mentioned them to my husband. This was a mistake.

‘I thought you would have read more than that’, he said. ‘That’s just a little over one a week.’

My little balloon of pride silently deflated. I reminded myself that it is not a competition, numbers should not matter, and there is no point in looking for praise or admiration at home. Here, I am the Mum who can’t: cook appealing food; keep up with my family when they exercise; add anything of interest to a conversation; remember every detail of every computer and programming language that I worked with twenty years ago.

My home life and my life on line couldn’t be more different and for this I am grateful.

On line I have had  a fabulous year. Authors and publishers have kept me supplied with the books that have facilitated my escape into other, more rewarding worlds. I have been treated to some gems that I may not otherwise have discovered. Getting into book blogging has been a highlight of my year.

I have learned some lessons along the way.

One of these is that I gain no pleasure from reading ebooks. As I read and review because I love books and want to share the joy this means that I will now only accept physical copies. I regret that I may miss out on some titles, in particular Salt’s Modern Dreams collection, but I find reading lengthy text from a screen to be a chore.

Another lesson learned, and one that I regret, is that self published books are too variable in quality to accept for review blind. Some, of course, are easily as good as any that have been released by a traditional publisher. I do not understand, for example, how EJ Kay’s Watermark has not been snapped up by the book trade. However, over the course of the past year I have read too many self published books that had interesting plots but were crying out for a tough edit to smooth over the rough edges and add balance to aspects of the writing. With so many good books out there, and so little time to read them all, I am now strictly limiting the self published books that I will accept.

Alongside my reading and reviewing I have continued to write my own fiction. I am not a blogger who dreams of having my own book published, mainly because I am not writing a book. I write flash and micro fiction which I publish on various sites on line. However, by continuing to write my own fiction I have learned a great deal.

One tough lesson came from another’s review of my writing; apparently I have significant issues with grammar. I am a strong advocate of good grammar so this feedback hit me like a punch in the gut. Having rallied it has been one of the most useful things said to me. Not only is it an area that I can work on to improve but it gave me a taste of how authors may feel if my book reviews are negative. I will always be honest in my opinions, otherwise what is the point of a review, but I try hard to say why, to add context. Reviews are written for other readers, not authors, but I know that they may be read by both.

Another lesson learned from my own writing is how hard it is to write well. Even if I don’t particularly enjoy a book I am in awe of anyone who can produce one. The sheer work involved in capturing all of those words in a coherent and compelling order is worth acknowledging. Thank you authors for creating the worlds that give us readers so much pleasure.

As a book blogger much of my contact with the book world is through publishers. I am immensely grateful to all those lovely PR people who have taken the time to send me books and who acknowledge the reviews that I write. It is a lovely feeling to be even a very small part of this magical, literary world.

At the beginning of the year my blog was a place where I recorded random musings on my life, thoughts and issues that affected me. I will still retain the right to use it for whatever types of post I wish. My hen keeping and teddy bear pieces are fun to produce and I thoroughly enjoyed creating my Shakespeare Bear Review last summer.

In the coming year I will be looking to write many more book reviews as well as adding to my small collection of author interviews and literary gig write ups. I hope that this will be of interest to the visitors I welcome to this site. All writers hope to find readers so thank you for being here. I wish you a very Happy New Year.

 

 

New Year

Happy New Year!

There, I’ve said it. I do wish you all good health, much happiness and strength to cope with whatever life throws at you. It just takes me a little while to get to the point where I feel able to relax enough to send out the greeting. I cannot relax until I am safely out the other side of the festive season.

I coped better this year than I managed last year. Not that such a thing would be hard given the personal implosion I suffered last year. Actually that would be the year before last now wouldn’t it? You know, given that we have been through the whole turn of the year thing? Oh well.

Talking about the turn of the year, I thought it would be different this time around. Now that my children regularly stay up to beyond midnight for, well, reasons, I thought that we might see the New Year in together. It was not to be. After the champagne, the music, the party food and the film, my husband and I agreed that we were in need of bed more than anything else. Lest you fondly imagine that anything romantic may have been going down, rest assured we were asleep within seconds of heads hitting pillows. At 10.30pm on New Year’s Eve. Boring? Yes. Enjoyed New Years Day more than a lot of my hungover friends? Yes.

So, having got up bright and early with a reasonably clear head, I undecked the halls. My reluctance to acknowledge Christmas until I am forced to do so meant that my children put up and decorated our two Christmas trees. Had they not done so there was a risk that I may have avoided this task altogether. I assisted by draping tinsel around various bits of furniture and innocent house plants. I found places for the themed candles and ornaments that we put out at this time of year. The bulk of the work though was done by my kids.

Not so the undecking, that I did alone and quickly. I have been known to tidy the lot away on Boxing Day so keen am I to move on. Bah humbug as they say.

Anyway, this year the decorations lasted until New Years Day. I had the house back to looking unfestive by lunchtime, and felt much better for it. Now that we have got all that out of the way I can start looking forward.

I do not really hate Christmas. What I find so hard are the expectations and obligations that have become a part of the whole thing. My natural urge to hide makes the whole bonhomie of the season a challenge. I could happily spend the two or three days in front of the television, dressed in my pyjamas, eating pizza with my loved ones. One of these years I am so going to do that.

Husband worked through all but the three shutdown days. The kids did whatever teenagers do all day when they are sequestered in their rooms. Now that we have got through and out the other side though we can enjoy what is left of the holidays. This weekend we will be getting away for some family time.

This is perfect for me. The weather may be foul but a New Year has started with all the positive energy that fresh starts bring. For a little while there will be no demands from others to fulfil any expectations. We five can run away together and have some fun.

So now I can wish you all a Happy New Year with heartfelt sincerity. I have a lot of plans for the coming months and am feeling good about what lies ahead. I hope that your year turns out to be magnificent.

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Reflections on 2013

However much I may like or loath the various traditions and expectations that the festive season throws up, it is hard not to reflect on the year just gone as it draws to a close. Mine has been nothing if not turbulent, even if only in my own head. As this is the only place where I can experience my life, the impact has been significant to me. In the words of the Bring Me The Horizon song, ‘I can’t drown my demons, they know how to swim’. I have therefore been trying to learn to manage my vexations and learn to swim with them.

We all change over time as events and experiences offer us new ways to see things. I believe that I am in a much better place now than I was a year ago, even if the journey has been challenging. This coming year I wish to build on the good  things that I have discovered. I want to write more and better, I want to find a way to share the pleasure that this gives me with my family, even if it is only that they may benefit from my more positive outlook. They have been the ones to suffer most from my moods, which have been all over the place in the last twelve months.

One of the highlights of my year was undoubtedly my trip to Berlin with my elder two children in late summer. We stayed with a very dear friend of mine and he made the trip just unbelievably fabulous for us. The city itself exceeded all my expectations, but those few days were precious for the company and the conversation as much as the location. After what had been a difficult summer for me it was just the pick me up that I needed. I cherish the memories that we made.

Other than that there were highlights, such as a night away in a lovely hotel by the seaside with my husband for his birthday in the spring; and lowlights, mainly triggered by the struggle I had coping with my adored children no longer needing nor wanting the interaction that has dominated my life for the last seventeen years. I still worry that I should be encouraging them to behave differently at times, but recognise that my sphere of influence has diminished. If we are to continue to get on then I need to grant them the freedom that they demand.

My husband has continued to support my eccentricities, it amazes me how good he is to me. Thanks to his generosity I was able to design and have built a little library in the heart of our home where I can curl up to read, write and tinker on our piano (my skill on this beautiful instrument has not, alas, improved). Surrounded by my books this is the perfect space for me to relax and create. I do a lot less housework and a lot more dreaming than I once did. Having me happy benefits my family more than having a dust free home, at least that is what I tell myself.

I am grateful that a core group of friends have stuck by me this year, even though I have not made the effort that I should to get together more often. I have actively avoided socialising in what would be regarded as normal venues, preferring to meet up for walks in the beautiful countryside around our home. Despite my inability to offer these friends comprehensible reasons why my moods have been so volatile they have offered me valued company and support.

And then there have been my growing number of on line friends who have offered encouragement, empathy and virtual hugs. This community has provided validation when I have felt that I have been losing my reason. I am grateful to my outernet friends for accepting me despite not understanding why I am upset; I am grateful to my internet friends for their comprehension, and for making me feel welcome anyway.

After the reflection comes the anticipation. A whole, shiny, bright, new year awaits just the other side of midnight. I wish to improve my health and fitness, both of which I have neglected over the past twelve months. I wish to manage my time better that I may see more of my friends, keep my house a little neater and still allow myself time to dream. I have books to read, stories to write and countryside to explore and appreciate.

Most of all though I wish to hug my husband more. He has not understood either my erratic moods or my desire to devote so much time to my writing, but has supported me anyway. My life can only be managed by me but, with him by my side, it is all so much more enjoyable.

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