Best bits of 2014
Every year at about this time, I promise myself that I’ll keep a list of all the interesting books, shows and films that I see over the next 12 months. I usually keep this up until about March and then life gets in the way. Which means when I get to this point where I do my little best bits blog I’m wracking my brains to remember all the cool things I’ve seen or done. The good thing, though, is that my memory is so bad that it usually fails to remember anything of those first three months and my half-baked list is actually pretty handy. So, this year, I will make, and most likely break, the same promise. In the meantime, here are my favourite bits of 2014.
Favourite read: you may remember that this time last year I wrote a full list of all the books I had bought and promptly not read. I rashly declared a ban on any new purchases until I had worked my way through said list. I did pretty well for the first few months, but then Karen Perry went and published their excellent debut novel The Boy That Never Was, Jonathan Barnes a fabulous collection of interlinked ghost stories called Skayne and later in the year David Mitchell published The Bone Clocks and Sarah Waters The Paying Guests. I am continuing to work my way through the original list but I fear it is a bottomless pit. Particularly now that my Christmas reading also includes Jessie Burton’s award-winning The Miniaturist and Margaret Atwood’s book of short stories Stone Mattress.
I failed to finish quite a few books in 2014. I hate not finishing a book, but having got halfway through each one and finding myself increasingly grumpy, I decided life was too short and I should move on.
It was also a year of discovering some classics – I’ve seen The Woman in Black on stage three times but never read Susan Hill’s novel. It’s wonderful. And I read Stephen King’s Carrie. The Sissy Spacek film scarred my impressionable 13-year-old head but for some reason I didn’t expect to enjoy the book as much as I did. King’s use of documentary evidence mixed with straight narrative really helped create tension. I'm only sorry it took me so long to get round to reading it.
Anyway, my favourite book of the year was The Bone Clocks. It’s a bonkers genre-hopping rollercoaster ride and the first section alone is a masterclass in fictional voice.
Favourite film: the five-year-old Lisa insists I say The Lego Movie. I’d also add Interstellar – despite having absolutely no idea what was going on in the last 20 minutes – and American Hustle.
Favourite literary event: this one is easy. Alice Oswald at the Southbank Centre reading Tithonus, except Oswald doesn’t so much read her work as perform it from memory. No mean feat for a piece that lasted 46 minutes – to emulate the length of a midsummer dawn. She began in complete darkness and was accompanied by Griselda Sanderson playing an instrument called the nyckelharpa. As the lights rose so, too, did the tension in the poem, created by some of the most breath-taking use of repetition, rhyme, half-rhyme, music and silence I’ve ever heard. A proper poet would be able to describe this more effectively than I but the effect was such that by the time the two women had finished it felt as if the whole room had held its breath for three quarters of an hour. A suckerpunch of a performance.
Favourite show: also easy – a double bill of Wolf Hall/Bring Up The Bodies at the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon with my Dad. Lovingly brought to life by Mike Poulton with help from Hilary Mantel, the two plays expertly capture the essence of Mantel’s novels without becoming slaves to them. All the key moments are in there but they are entities in their own right, full of humour and court intrigue. Wolf Hall opens with a dance and straight away you know which one is Anne Boleyn, not because she says anything, but because Lydia Leonard – the actress who plays her – uses her eyes to flirt with each of her dance partners. I was hooked from that moment on.
Favourite literary moment: asking Margaret Atwood a question. I have no idea what the question was, I was too busy being ridiculously giddy about it all.
Paper in 2014: I continue to await the long-vaunted demise of my beloved medium, but, so far, no significant signs of illness. It seems to me that the book world is getting a little cannier and has started to remember that a book can be a thing of beauty as much as it is a transportation mechanism. I was lucky to get hold of special editions of both The Bone Clocks and The Paying Guests. I also largely stuck to my new book-buying rule – support my local bookshop. Regency Bookshop in Surbiton is a little oasis of papery heaven and not only that, but nine times out of ten the book I ordered at three o’clock on Tuesday afternoon was in the store by ten o’clock Wednesday morning. You don’t get the hefty amazon discounts but then again they do pay their taxes.
Favourite writing moment: getting a short piece published in the inaugural edition of The A3 Review, a new endeavour from Shaun Levin and following the format of his fab Writing Maps.
Favourite personal writing moment: On Monday 22 December 2014 I finished the first draft of my novel. I still have an enormous task ahead of me – there are so many problems with it structurally and in terms of the language, but I squished another demon last year. More of that in another, forthcoming, post.
That’ll do, I think. As always, I would wish you a happy, healthy and successful 2015 in whatever you decide to do.