“Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come,
Whispering ‘it will be happier’…” Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
It’s December and time for the last blog post of the year. It’s been a difficult year for everyone in many different ways but I feel optimistic about the future.
In times of uncertainty books are a great escape, a sentiment expressed so well in Island Dreams by Gavin Francis, in which he says I realise that often in adult life I’ve considered books as portable islands in the way they grant isolation from one’s surroundings, offering relief from immediate demands and space for contemplation. Words that feel particularly apposite for 2020.
Francis was one of over one hundred writers to contribute to the Scottish anthology Imagine a Country. The idea for this book was conceived long before coronavirus reached our everyday lexicon but the authors’ contributions on ideas for a better future resonated with me, especially those by Alexander McCall Smith, Jackie Kay, and Aly Bain, as all offer hope.
The global pandemic has forced all of us to reflect on how we live our lives and to adapt. One of the few bonuses was that many literary events moved online giving book lovers front row seats at fantastic events. Some of the highlights for me came from Bloody Scotland (Dame Sue Black, Ian Rankin), the Hay-on-Wye Festival (Maggie O’Farrell), the Edinburgh Festival (Bernardine Evaristo) and the Society of Authors (Antonia Fraser).
I had the opportunity to take part in my own online event in August, organised by Bristol wordsmith, Grace Palmer. Grace is the curator of Novel Nights, the forum for many author talks and literary evenings. A transatlantic Novel Nights collaboration with US arts magazine Cheap Imitation allowed me the chance to meet some American writers and read from my psychological thriller Love Until it Hurts.
Another collaboration with fellow Wiltshire writer Amanda Read saw the launch of World To Write, the videozine mentioned in previous blogs and available on YouTube.
Here are just a few of my book recommendations from 2020:
Written in Bone by Prof Dame Sue Black, which offers a fascinating insight into forensic anthropology; The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel, the final instalment in the Wolf Hall trilogy; The Illumination of Ursula Flight by Anna Marie Crowhurst, historical fiction which tells the tale of a feisty, entertaining 17th Century feminist; Maggie &Me, a heartrending memoir by Damian Barr, and finally Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart.
Shuggie Bain, which tells the story of a young boy growing up in Glasgow in the 1980’s, supporting his mother as she struggles with poverty and addiction, was the well-deserved winner of the 2020 Booker prize. I was interested to read recently that Shuggie Bain is a debut novel which was ten years in the making and was rejected thirty two times before Douglas Stuart found a publisher. Hope for us all!
Merry Christmas, Everyone. Wishing you all a creative and successful 2021.