Best bits of 2016
This is a bit late going up – although I realise last year I didn’t even post anything. Lateness aside, this post felt particularly important, given how miserable 2016 felt, as years go. So, herewith my cheery, best cultural bits of 2016:
Favourite read: Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last was fab and a really wonderful example of how a book’s title can be so satisfying when it shows up in the novel. I’d also like to say it is totally bonkers, but since the US looks like it’s on the verge of becoming the Republic of Gilead, I’ll hold that thought.
I also loved David Mitchell’s small but perfectly formed Slade House. His ability to defy genre, mess with your head and create characters you feel sure you’ve met, all while writing lovely prose, always makes his books a treat to read.
There were many things that I enjoyed about Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, but sadly the ending was not one of them. It felt rushed, which was disappointing given the control of the prose up until that point.
If you have any eight-to-12-year-old bookworms in your life, then go and buy them a copy of Susan Moore’s Crimson Poison right now. It’s the first book in Susan’s Nat Walker series and Nat is, frankly, the kind of adventure-loving girl I would have adored at the age of ten. When I say adored, I mean would have wanted to be Nat so badly that I’d have nagged my mum to let me change my name.*
For my hands-down favourite, though, it has to be Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. Shockingly, this is the first of Atkinson’s books that I’ve ever read. For years, I believed that I wouldn’t like them, based solely on the fact that Behind the Scenes at the Museum was recommended to me when it was first published and I just couldn’t get into it. How stupid was I? Wrong time, maybe. Life After Life is beautifully written, cleverly plotted and wears its research lightly. I’m looking forward to reading more.
Favourite film: easy. Arrival. Beautifully acted, beautifully shot and while it has one or two hokey ‘say what?’ moments (for me, anyway) the story and script leave the viewer much to ponder on the importance of clear communication and trust.
That said, I did see Rogue One twice at the cinema.
Favourite arty event: two for this one. The first was a talk with David Mitchell and Kazuo Ishiguro at the Southbank Centre. They spoke about writing, ghosts and their mutual appreciation for each other’s work. The lack of moderator at the event gave it a delightfully mad feel, as if it could spiral out of control at any moment. It was brilliant. If you're interested in listening, the Southbank Centre has posted the full talk on its blog.
The other was the Georgia O’Keefe exhibition at Tate Modern. I knew nothing about O’Keefe but fell in love with her and her work. If you come across the BBC’s Imagine episode all about her, do watch it. She was a fascinating woman who lived an extraordinary life.
Favourite show: Matthew Bourne’s adaptation of the 1948 film The Red Shoes. I still haven’t watched the film, although it’s on the to do list, and so it was one of those ballets where I just had to soak up the atmosphere and really let the dancing do the storytelling. And what storytelling. The ballet within the ballet was breath-taking. This show was made all the more special by a) the son of a family friend starring and b) going with my six-year-old ballet-loving nephew and my fab little sis. Cracking Christmas trip out.
Closely followed by the National Theatre’s production of Amadeus. Most people will know the 1984 Oscar-winning film, starring F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce, but it, in fact, began life as a play by Peter Shaffer. I spent a lot of my childhood listening to the Amadeus soundtrack and was very excited when I learned there would be a live orchestra in this production. Little did I know that (spoiler alert) they would actually be incorporated into the play itself, making the music as much a character as the actors themselves.
Paper in 2016: my notebook count is looking very healthy, thanks to some corking Christmas presents and surprise discoveries in Regency Bookshop and Foyles. There is nothing lovelier than a new notebook and the prospect of filling it with words. It makes up for the fact that this year I had to end my London Library membership.
Favourite writing moment: way back in January I was shortlisted for the Bare Fiction Prize 2015 for flash fiction.
Favourite ‘I didn’t know I’d do that’ moment: setting up a digital literary and arts magazine called all the sins with Sinéad Keegan. We’ve published two editions so far and if you haven’t checked it out, please do.
*True story – I wanted to be Nancy Drew so badly as a child that I nagged my Mum to let me change my name. As you can see, my campaign failed.