52 Weeks: 52 Books – June

I’ve reached the halfway point in the 52 Weeks:52 books challenge in terms of time, but I’m still well short of halfway in terms of books read. July and August really need to be months of Awesome Readingness to get me back on track. During June I read

Book 18: Sarah Rayner – The Two Week Wait

Book 19: Clare Mackintosh – I Let You Go

I also strongly feel that I read something else, but I can’t remember what it was so I can’t get the points for it. Given that I’m seven books behind schedule this is deeply frustrating, but I’ve rifled through the book shelves and bedside table and scrolled through my kindle and I can’t work out what it might have been. Clearly, I’ve either made the whole experience up, or it was a seriously unmemorable read.

Both the books I do remember reading covered big emotive subjects. The Two Week Wait is about infertility and IVF and looks at egg and sperm donors. I Let You Go looks at the aftermath of the death of a child in a hit and run incident. As a writer I firmly believe that emotion is everything. You can have all the whizzy bangy plot in the world going on, and all the amusing japes you can think of, if the main characters’ emotional stories aren’t right the whole thing ends up feeling a little bit flat.

For me that was exactly what Clare Mackintosh gets right in I Let You Go. A lot of the reviews I’ve seen have focused on the twisty-turny plotting, but to be honest that wasn’t the thing that I fell in love with in this book. It’s beautifully done and works very well, but the thing that drew me in was the emotional story, and the way in which all the major characters are nuanced and flawed. Nobody is 100% good or 100% bad. With the most repellent character in the story Mackintosh uses a first person narrative voice to put you inside the character’s view of the world. It’s chilling, but makes him three-dimensional in a way that viewing him from the outside might not. I Let You Go is already a massive bestseller, and deservedly so – if you haven’t read it already I heartily recommend it, with only a small hint of insane depression about how this is Clare Mackintosh’s debut. First books really shouldn’t be this good; it’s terribly discouraging for the rest of us.

Even though I only read (or at least only remember) two books this month, I think the books I have read have reignited my enthusiasm for the 52 Weeks: 52 Books project. Part of the idea, in addition to rediscovering the reading joy, was that good writers need to read, and this month I’ve definitely felt as though the reading was feeding into my writing brain, rather than distracting from writing, which is excellent. So now I just need to read 11 books in July to get back on schedule. Eeeek.

Feel free to tell us what you’re reading in the comments, and if you’re stuck for a book then this is a jolly good place to start.

In which six is the magic number

My publisher, Choc Lit, is six years old today, which is lovely. Well, it’s lovely up to a point. Beyond that, having a publisher who doesn’t want to discuss your edits because they had too much ice cream before they went on the swings and so now they feel sicky is less than ideal. Despite those reservations, a birthday is still a thing to be celebrated, so in the spirit of ‘sixiness’ here are six things I’m thinking about right this second…

1. Turning to crime

Not actual crime. That would be bad. Being bad is generally considered to be one of the defining characteristics of actual crime, but I am thinking about fictional crime. Yesterday I went to see a panel of frankly awesome crime writers talk at the Worcestershire LitFest. The panel was made up of CL Taylor, Sarah Hilary, Clare Mackintosh and Alex Marwood, all of whom are bestsellers and utterly brilliant writers. A couple of things really stood out – both CL Taylor and Alex Marwood started their writing careers writing books that were marketed as chick lit before turning to crime, and Clare Mackintosh actually turned down a potential offer to publish an earlier book before her astounding breakout debut hit, I Let You Go. All of which made me think a lot about writing and publishing as a career and how easy or difficult it is to switch genres or to write in multiple genres and hmmm… well… thoughts.

 

2. I bloody love teaching

I’ve been properly snowed under with work recently. I’m marking a lot at the moment, promoting one book, trying to finish writing another and I’ve recently joined the committee of the RNA, which is brilliant but also time-consuming. And then on Saturday afternoon I had an afternoon off. Well not actually ‘off’ – I had an afternoon standing at the front of a class with a flipchart talking about plot and character and trying to help five developing authors get to grips with their own works in progress, and it was immense fun, so much fun that, compared with the days and day of bum-on-seat time I’ve had recently, it almost felt like an afternoon off. Brilliant students, an excellent worked example of a character arc interacting with an external plot (courtesy of Terry Pratchett and Guards! Guards!) and a generally all round lovely afternoon.

 

3. My new book baby is out there in the world

Midsummer Dreams was published on Friday. You probably didn’t know that. I barely bang on about it at all. The early reviews have been lovely and positive though, which is always a huge relief. Until the first reviews appear there’s always a possibility that nobody else on the planet will understand what on earth you were trying to do with a novel, but fortunately at least some people seem to love this one. Happy dances all around! If you’d like to download a copy for yourself this is the place.

 

4. The Labour leadership contest is getting me down

So it’s fairly well documented that I’m a bit of a lefty, well ok, quite a lot of a lefty, so I should be following the Labour leadership contest with great interest. Unfortunately all I’ve been able to muster so far is great disillusionment. I can’t even bring myself to type a proper rant about how disappointing the candidates all are. That’s how disillusioning the whole thing is. *sigh*

 

5. Fatness and cake

I’m currently on attempt 728 to get my weight under control. My current system involves good old fashioned bribery as the incentive, as EngineerBoy has been persuaded to sponsor me £1 for every 1lb I lose. So far I’ve made £4. Yeah baby!

The current biggest downside of the weight loss plan is that it really curtails the amount of baking I can justify doing. I love baking – it’s like magic for people who don’t have sufficient attention span to actually learn how to cut a lady in half, or, if you prefer, it’s like science for people who only have eggs, butter and flour to experiment with. Baking is awesome, but it very often leads to cake, and cake, very often, leads to fatitude. Again *sigh*

 

6. And finally, I am thinking about Christmas

Because my current work-in-progress is the third (and possibly final, but never say never) Christmas Kisses book, so for the third year in a row May and June have been soundtracked by White Christmas and Band Aid. No spoilers about the book other than to say it will be Christmassy and there will probably be some kissing.

 

So there you go. There are six things that are on my mind right now. What’s everyone else thinking about?