How can we know what the future will bring?
What I can do is concentrate on some of the many novels I have read this year and the wonderful writers I have met. Although I read a varied selection of books, I shall only mention novels. After all, that's what I do and that's what I mainly dwell on. (Of course, they are mostly historical.)
Firstly, I want to talk about a contemporary thriller that took the world by storm this year. It's easy to sneer at such novels but I have to say The Girl on The Train by Paula Hawkins deserved all the plaudits it received. When I was in my twenties I commuted for a year in an out of London along. AS is the case of repetitive journeys, I knew almost every house I rattled (or sometimes crawled) past. Like Rachel, I often created lives for them in my head that were far more fulfilling than my own because I happened to be in a bit of a mess myself and didn't know where my life was heading. Fortunately, I soon pulled myself together. Rachel, on thre other hand, sinks deeper and deeper in the mess she makes for herself. She is the archetypical unreliable narrator, making me angry and frustrated by the mess she made of everything and the lies she told. However, her drunken confusion and the mess she makes are not entirely her fault. This is a stunning novel that still resonates with me
I know that The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton was first published in 2014 but its slightly surreal quality and its secure history still resonates with me even now. I shall definitely read her next novel. Unlike Jessie Burton who sprung on the scene so unexpectedly, I have been a fan of Esther Freud's novels for a very long time. I was therefore very shocked when Mr Mac and Me failed to hit the heights. I still don't understand why. It is a novel of the time during the Great War, that Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his wife lived in Suffolk. But as the title of the novel makes clear, the novel is actually about a boy who becomes obsessed with them both and what it reveals of the suspicions and paranoia of war and suspicious minds. Masterful fiction.
In the past few years, I have mentioned how much I love about the annual Harrogate History Festival, organised by the HWA. There have now been three of them. This year, it exceeded itself with the appearances by two of my favourite men: Neil Oliver and Melvin Bragg, both with historical novels out which I haven't yet read but will do so. Also speaking was Michael Morpurgo who, to me, should be classed as a National Treasure for encouraging children in a totally unstuffy way to love reading.He speaks to children directly without talking down to them.
I have always enjoyed engagaing with writers whose novels I admire. It was lovely to meet Emma Darwin and Andrew Taylor who writes brilliant novels that somehow, although they sell well, rarely win the big prizes. An Andrew Taylor novel is always a treat. This year, as well as The Silent Boy which centres on The French Revolution, it was also my pleasure to read a previous historical thriller of his: The Anatomy off Ghosts.
There are many times when I wonder why I bother writing fiction when I am not a patch on any of the writers I mention here.But, don't we all feel like that more often than not?
This year's HWA conference also introduced me to Anna Hope and her stunning novel Wake which tells most vividly of the legacy of grief and mental disintegration of those 'left behind' by war. Three woman, seporated by class and their situation. One is a mother, another is a sister and the other is one who works although she is rich enough not to. Yet, all of them are linked by one particular vile even in the war. What ties them together and determines ther novels structure, them and links, is the disinterment and re-burial of the Unknown Soldier in Westminster Abbey. Another novelist worth reading. And I am looking forward to her next novel, The Ballroom. It is set in High Royds Hospital, well-known, or should I say once notorious mental asylum in the Leeds area, where, incidentally, my brother in law once worked as a doctor and where he now lives in an house in the new housing development following its decommission.
The nature of such book-related events is that you keep bumping into many people again and again over the course of three days. Then, when you get beck home you discover that plenty of people you know well were also there but you never even saw them even at a distance.
So it was while I sat on a bench at Harrogate station waiting for the York train where I would change trains. At my feet was a big bag (stuffed with books) with the Festival's logo emblazoned on it. Someone sat down next to me and we started taking about the festival that had just ended. And we talked and talked and talked on the train all the way to York where we had to go our separate ways. (Yet I hadn't seen her at all at the Festival although she is a committee member of the HWA.)
Elizabeth Freemantle (for it was she) is a really lovely lady. Well, of course she is. She's a writer of excellent historical novels, of course, which I have been reading with great plesure and admiration ever since we chatted. Although I thought that the Tudor period held nothing new for me, I was wrong and have already devoured Queen's Gambit and Sisters of Treason.
Then, as the New Year dawns with the popping of corks and the crackle of fireworks, I look forward to reading Watch The Lady.
And, with the new year, with any luck I will have finished writing my latest novel and maybe even have it accepted by an agent and/or publisher.
In the meantime, I would like to wish all of you who might have glanced at one or two of my blog posts this year - says she, always the optimist - A Very Happy Christmas and a Stupendous 2016.