Let’s face it, 2016 has been a crap year for the world. And politically, 2017 scares the poop out of me (though let’s hope New Zealand seizes the opportunity later this year to #changethegovernment).
But in writing terms, for me 2016 was a great year, and — with my new novel due out in a few months — I hope 2017 will be just as good. So I’m going to ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive and e-liminate the negative of 2016, with a random and belated countdown (a few days too late to ring in the new year) of five professional(ish) highlights of the past year. Swingalong with Ella, then read on…
Five fab festivals (and a forum)
It’s been a good year in terms of writers festivals. I was on the programme for two festivals — Perth Writers Festival 2016 in February, and WORD Christchurch in August — and attended three others (Writers Week in Wellington in March, Auckland Writers Festival in May, and the biggest little festival, Wellington LitCrawl, in November), and they were all bloody wonderful. Apart from anything else, festivals contribute greatly to my reading — I learn about writers I haven’t yet read (Ivan Coyote at WORD Chch, just for starters), or catch up on writers I’ve long revered (like Jeanette Winterson at AWF).
Not a festival, but a forum: I went up to Auckland again in September for the inaugural National Writers Forum, organised by New Zealand Society of Authors, not sure what to expect, and found it hugely enjoyable and informative — i.e. all I’d hoped for.
Four (formed or future) books
I was in the new (to me) and unusual position of juggling three of my own novels this year, all in different parts of the writing and publishing process.
My first novel, The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt, was published in Australia and New Zealand all the way back in 2013, so it felt like a brand new start when the book was published in 2016 by Aardvark Bureau in UK (January) and US (May). While Lena was getting her second wind in the northern hemisphere, I was working with my Australian publisher, Fremantle Press, to get my second novel, The Hope Fault, ready for publication (pub date is 1 March 2017, two short months away). And all the while, I was trying to find time to chip away at my third novel — it’s still in very early stages, but I got enough reading and thinking done, and enough down on paper (yes, good old paper notebooks), that it feels like a solid thing that will happen, in its own good time.
In late 2016 I was published in hardback for the first time, when ‘At the Bay’ — a chapter from The Hope Fault, lightly revised so it stands on its own two feet — was published in the collection Good Dog! New Zealand Writers on Dogs (Vintage New Zealand), edited by Stephanie Johnson.
Three (of many) favourite readers I’ve never met
Enormous thanks to everyone who’s read, reviewed, mentioned, tweeted about and recommended The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt this past year, and let the record note that EVERYONE who reads my books is my favourite reader. However, special thanks to Lee Randall (@randallwrites) and Lynsey Hopkins (@lynseyhopkins), who both included The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt in their best books of 2016 lists, and gave repeated mentions to Lena throughout the year (including Lynsey’s mention in Times Higher Education); and to Eric Anderson (@lonesomereader) who, back in March, included Lena Gaunt on his wishlist of predictions for the Baileys Prize 2016 longlist (if only he’d been right!).
Two favourite bookshops I’ve never visited
A huge shout out to bookshops and booksellers everywhere, especially to independent bookshops. You are my happy place, wherever you are. But this past year I’ve had a special place in my heart for two (three, technically, but that spoils the countdown shtick) bookshops I’ve never visited. Cheers to the Yellow-Lighted Bookshops (@YLBookshop) in rural Gloucestershire, who so generously celebrated (and successfully sold!) The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt in 2016. In April they tweeted that it was their “current bestselling paperback, exquisitely written”, and in May declared it their “bestselling fiction book of the year”. Apart from their exquisite taste in books, they have flowers, and fruit, and cake, and a delightful Twitter account. Please, visit them: www.yellow-lightedbookshop.co.uk.
My other favourite bookshop I’ve never visited is Belgravia Books, home of Aardvark Bureau, who published The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt in 2016. With any luck, I’ll finally get to visit in 2017, and you should, too: belgraviabooks.com.
One favourite publisher who visited from UK
The influential, feather-ruffling Scott Pack (@meandmybigmouth) visited New Zealand for a month in August/September 2016, and I finally got to meet in person the delightful bloke (with excellent taste in books) who, while listening online to Radio NZ one night, happened upon my novel and (to cut a long story short) bought the rights to publish it internationally. Among other events in NZ, Scott was a guest at WORD Christchurch (where it was my pleasure to introduce his session, Adventures in Publishing), and at the National Writers Forum in Auckland. He also visited Wellington for a few days and provided a substrate for one of our cats.
With that random countdown over, Thunderbirds are go, and so am I, for now. But I’m not yet done with 2016; later this week I’ll list some of my favourite reads of 2016 — because it’s been a cracker of a reading year for me.