Well, my friends, it’s been another… um… interesting year in real life (which due to mostly remote working has felt like virtual life anyway). When I look back at this year personally I see some massive positives (I got married; we even managed to venture abroad on holiday; I got promoted, twice) but it’s had more than its fair share of grim-ness too (possibly less so than the vast majority of others, given the reasons listed above) and as we limp towards the line at the end of the year I find myself thinking, just like last year ‘let’s put this one behind us and go again in the new year’.

I hope. Spoiler alert, that’s the last line of a certain novel by Stephen King… but more on that later.

Another thing which has been positive this year has been the sheer volume of books I’ve been able to consume. One of the few plus points of remote working is the time you get back from not having to commute. With that, and the fact we pretty much ‘completed’ Netflix and for the vast majority of the year I haven’t been able to travel to football… well, it’s all added up to a big amount of reading time to fill the void.

And how. This year the quantity of books I’ve devoured scares even me. Scares me enough to put in a disclaimer here: no, I did not spend all day when I was supposed to be working reading books. And to be fair the number of screen hours I’ve racked up on Teams meetings, socials, the like practically forced me to pick up a paperback after work hours anyway.

The grand total

Last year I read a total of 77 books, during various lockdowns, national crises, and the like. Frankly I thought it was an unbeatable number. (Incidentally, in 2017 I read 75; in 2018, 61; and in 2019, 57.)

But this year I’ve topped it. I’ve read 93 books. (Incidentally II, The Guardian also tells me I’ve read close to 6000 articles on their website this year and I also subscribe to the excellent football magazines FourFourTwo and United we Stand.)

The above graph shows my most avid reading months. Relatively fallow periods tend to correspond with busy times at work or in my personal life (a wedding). March was my most active reading month. I can scarcely credit it now, but back then I was averaging an unbelievable three books a week, or near as dammit. The reasons why? I suppose home-schooling had ended (fingers-crossed forever) and spring was springing and I suppose there was positivity in the air.

Quality and quantity

But it’s not been all about the quantity, it’s also featured a great deal of quality. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed most of the stuff I’ve read this year. Mainly, I think, because of the sheer diversity of it. This is thanks to my regular use of the Little Free Libraries (four of which are within walking distance of my house), my subscription to the (free with Prime) Amazon First Reads programme, but also loads and loads of recommendations from friends, family, and colleagues. Every year I run The Andy’s I get more. Keep ‘em coming.

Resolutions

But as I do every new year I will resolve to read better, and more widely. My promise to myself this year was that I would read at least as many women writers as men, having spotted an imbalance in previous years’ charts. I haven’t managed this in 2021, but I will again make a concerted effort in 2022.

One thing I did manage was to read more non-fiction (my charts are completely dominated by novels). This year I’ve read completely random stuff over and above my usual sports-dominated agenda. There were of course a couple of footy books which sneaked their way in, but in fairness they weren’t all about Manchester United. I also read Ray Parlour’s autobiography, for example. I loathed him as a player as he played for Arsenal, our biggest rivals (on the pitch) at the time. I liked him in the book. You know what they say about reading opening the mind…

Beyond soccerball I also read autobiographies (John Cooper-Clarke), true life tales of a junior officer in Afghanistan, a Michael Palin travel book on North Korea, a book on the existential threat of big tech, a book on utopias, and a book on the malevolence of big corporations. I read books on the art and science of leadership. I read books I quoted in (successful) interviews: The Chimp Paradox (no, I wasn’t going for a role as a zoo keeper).

I also read No Strings Attached: The Inside Story of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop which just so happened to have been penned by my boss! I enjoyed it and I’m not just brown-nosing: it made me watch Labyrinth again and The Storyteller series. Which was handy after completing Netflix…

Another piece of non-fiction which stands out is The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper. This was recommended by my father-in-law, and I would in turn recommend it to anyone else. It’s about reclaiming the lives of the women so brutally murdered by Jack. Making them more than victims. But also about exposing how society at the time was at times as cruel as he was.

Patterns

Some weird patterns I noticed during my reading year:

In April, bizarrely I read two novels with cats amongst the main protagonists: the excellent The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward and French Exit by Patrick ‘Sisters Brothers’ de Witt. And in October, two books on the trot which featured snakes (as an instrument of torture and as a part of a religious ceremony) in CJ Lyons’ Snake Skin, and The Nowhere Child by Christian White

But you don’t want to read any more of this build-up, do you? You want to know WHO’S WON!

So here are my top twenty:

  1. Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King
  2. Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart
  3. Billy Summers by Stephen King
  4. The Dirty South by John Connolly
  5. The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel
  6. The Thrill of it All by Joseph O’Connor
  7. The Children Act by Ian McEwan
  8. The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner
  9. The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward
  10. A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne
  11. Fair Warning by Michael Connelly
  12. Summer by Ali Smith
  13. NW by Zadie Smith
  14. Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh
  15. The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
  16. The Naturalist by Andrew Mayne
  17. Beneath Devil’s Bridge by Loreth Anne White
  18. Mystery Man by Bateman
  19. The Dying Detective by Leif G.W. Persson
  20. Cunning Folk by Adam L.G. Nevill

King’s coronation:

So finally my favourite writer lands a top spot in my chart. As well as the gold medal, he carries off the bronze medal, too. I mean, he had a podium finish last year (with his short story collection If It Bleeds) but this is something else…

I think the reason King so dominates my chart this year is – as well as being an obsessive, I’m also a completist. I realised that although I devour all of his new stuff on an annual basis, there are some gaps in my Kingly knowledge. So I’ve been back and revisited some classics from his back catalogue which I haven’t read. Which explains my number one choice. I mean The Shawshank Redemption has always been one of my favourite films and the images in my head of Red and Andy Dufresne will always – indelibly – be Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins. But I don’t think that explained my resistance to reading the book. I think I was maybe just scared I’d be disappointed. That the hope would blink out.

It didn’t. Remarkably I’ve read seven novels by King this year but Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption is the ultimate. And I did start thinking of Red in a slightly different way and I did see Andy differently (he’s diminutive in the book: Robbins is massive). And now I have two massive favourites in two different media. So all round, a big win.

And the best of the rest (no particular order):

Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King; The Punishment She Deserves by Elizabeth George; The Nowhere Child by Christian White; The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold; Later by Stephen King; Jpod by Douglas Coupland; Before You Knew My Name by Jacqueline Bublitz; The Law of Innocence by Michael Connelly; The Cove by Ron Rash; ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King; Lazarus by Lars Kepler; The Quarry by Iain Banks; Swimming Home by Deborah Levy; Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie; The Soul of Discretion by Susan Hill; Damnation Falls by Edward Wright; 1922 by Stephen King; The Castaways by Lucy Clarke; Gallows View by Peter Robinson; Love all the People: Letters, Lyrics, Routines by Bill Hicks Foreword by John Lahr; The Lost Village by Camilla Sten; The Second Sleep by Robert Harris; Pine by Francine Toon; Utopia for Realists (and How we can Get There) by Rutger Bregman; The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power by Joel Bakan; Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens; The Junior Officers’ Reading Club by Patrick Hennessey; Twelve Days of Winter by Stuart Macbride; The Good People by Hannah Kent; Good Bait by John Harvey; Borzois and Bevuardos or Kiss That Steak Slice Goodbye by Alan Devey; A Song for the Dark Times by Ian Rankin; Death in Summer by William Trevor; Ordinary Thunderstorms by William Boyd; The Noble Path by Peter May; The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye by David Lagercrantz; Snake Skin by CJ Lyons; These Toxic Things by Rachel Howzell Hall; The Heatwave by Kate Riordan; Dead Pretty by David Mark; Vox by Christina Dalcher; Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King; The Resurrectionist by James Bradley; The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman; The Burning Girl by Mark Billingham; World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech by Franklin Foer; Girl A by Abigail Dean; The Girl Beneath the Sea by Andrew Mayne; Darksoul by Anna Stephens; The History of Bees by Maja Lunde; The Red Apprentice: Ole Gunnar Solksjaer: the Making of Manchester United’s Great Hope by Jamie Jackson; I Wanna Be Yours by John Cooper Clarke; The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman; French Exit by Patrick de Witt; My Uncle Oswald by Roald Dahl; Guantanamo Boy by Anna Perera; The Romford Pele: It’s Only Ray Parlour’s Autobiography by Ray Parlour with Amy Lawrence; The Broker by John Grisham; The Things You Didn’t See by Ruth Dugdall; No Strings Attached: The Inside Story of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop by Matt Bacon; Denial by Peter James; North Korea Journal by Michael Palin; Stranded by Stuart James; Still Water by John Harvey; Grantchester Grind by Tom Sharpe; Red Mist by Patricia Cornwell; The Reluctant Leader: Coming out of the Shadows by Peter Shaw and Hilary Douglas; Someone we Know by Shari Lapena; The Catch by T.M. Logan; Touch by Claire North; The Chimp Paradox by Dr. Steve Peters; Death on the Rive Nord by Adrian Magson

Last Friday at a prestigious (virtual) ceremony my colleague Jude Tipper and I won the comms2point0 Blog of the Year award for 2021 for our piece on constructing strategic narratives. We chose to participate live from my local, the Roundhay Fox, which was nice. It was also very nice that so many of you voted for us so thank you so much!

You can read the full story here.

And you can read our winning blog post here.

Exciting news! I’ve been nominated (TWICE!) for Blog Post of the Year in the comms2point0 ‘Unawards’. I’d be honoured if you’d vote for me. You can read all the posts which are up for the award here:

https://lnkd.in/eQnnHjuc.

There’s some fantastic writing here and some extremely strong competition (not least my boss!) and also myself (did I mention I’ve been nominated twice)…

So, as I’ve got two horses in the race, so to speak, the one I really want you to vote for is my joint piece with Jude Tipper. It’s about key messaging and strategic narratives… work that I’m really proud of.

Vote here:

https://lnkd.in/e_DR6SKs

It’s the penultimate one on the list…

It’s worth noting that the link works best on mobile phones…

THANK YOU!

My new blog, ‘Child’s Play’, on the process of setting up a new communications team with a heavy impetus of storytelling in a public sector organisation has been published by comms2point0. You can read it here.

The ‘Andy’ Awards 2020

Posted: December 21, 2020 in Uncategorized

For many of us 2020 has been a year to forget. A year to consign to the dustbin. A bag of shite. Wringing any positives at all from it is very hard. But I suppose having the time to read more books (because of lockdowns and curfews and, quite simply, having nothing to do) has been one of them.

The good, the bad, and the bubbly

I’ve read an epic 77 books this year (which is my personal best since my records began; up from 57 in 2019, and from 61 in 2018… in 2017 I read a whopping 75 novels but that still don’t compete with – vidiprinter alert – SEVENTY-SEVEN). In that number have been the good, the bad, and the bubbly (which is the title of a book I didn’t read this year: an old biography of Georgie Best). I’ve read some absolutely fantastic stuff which I can highly recommend, and some stuff which was maybe less so, so you don’t have to. (Don’t, for example, chance your arm with Bill Clinton’s masturbatory novel in which he fantasises about president as superhero – see pic below.) Hence this chart. Pay attention to it if you like. But feel free to ignore it too. It’s just one man’s opinion after all (NB. Not George Best’s.)

I do this every year: I compulsively log everything I read after I’ve read it, marking it out of 20. It’s a pretty weird thing to do. But I’ve always done similar. On family holidays back in the day I used to compile ‘ice cream charts’ based on who had what every day. Cornetto Magnifico always used to come out on top because who wouldn’t want the biggest damned ice cream in the shop rather than a bog-standard size ‘other’ Cornetto?

Anyway, check out my list from last year, and from 2018, when the past really was a different place where they did things differently…

A weird book soup of a year

Anyhow this year I’ve read books by a wide range of authors – from a novel by the former president of the United states to a book by the son of the inventor of the table football game Subbuteo. I’ve read books on the psychology of traffic jams. I’ve read books on the squeam-inducing secret lives of doctors. And about some very weird American subcultures (yeah, at the back, that one was by Louis Theroux).

I’ve read a wider variety of types of books this year, too. I’ve read much more short story collections this year, for example, and those collections have charted higher this year than in previous years. It’s helped that two of my favourite authors – Paul Tremblay and Stephen King, both multiple ‘Andy’ award nominees (and winners) – both released collections in 2020. The Stephen King collection If it Bleeds is worthy of further comment, as it contains what it potentially the best short story I’ve read in many years: ‘Rat’. ‘Rat’ is the story of the painful nature of the creative process. I feel it, brother I feel it. I’ve read quite a bit more non-fiction. And I’ve even read a screenplay (again: King).

The numbers

The numbers this year have been read ’em and weep massive. SEVENTY-SEVEN. You could probably cross-reference my most prolific reading months against those data visualisations we’ve all come to know (and love and, yes, weep about) around lockdowns and Coronavirus numbers.

Though it was an all-round shitty year in most respects, it was redeemed – slightly – by the fact that a lot of my favourite authors put out new releases in 2020 (David Mitchell, Jo Nesbo, and Stephen King released books; Paul Tremblay put out TWO; I also read new stuff by Phillip Pullman and Margaret Atwood which although not officially released in 2020, were as near as damnit – certainly I didn’t have any time to read them last year)

But it wasn’t all about old school favourites, I also discovered new writers I really liked: Grady Hendrix, Camilla Bruce, Kate Weinberg, Shaun Hamill, Balli Kaur Jaswal, to name but a few.

It’s also worth noting books in my chart by (loose) connections of mine: Anna Stephens and Karis Dowsell.

The random nature of my reading list explained…

The reason for the very omnivorous nature of my reading list is, again, the Book Box at the end of our road (a little library enabling us to swap books with our neighbours). During lockdown we’ve called in at this many times, just for something to do, and we’ve also discovered three more in close proximity, so we’re getting even more random. It’s also helped that this year I’ve been a member of the Shelterbox Book Club* which each month sends a new book – one you’d probably never have encountered before – for you to explore.

One final point of note

Transcription by Kate Atkinson is worthy of a mention. Though it wasn’t my favourite book of the year (or even in the top twenty) it was one of the most resonant.

The novel captures the longstanding effects of war on the home front, on citizens who are still trying to keep up with everyday life (the terror, the boredom, the fear, the monotony, the sense that everything is moving at a different pace and the sense that nothing will ever be the same again, the lies and the subterfuge, the ‘grassing’ on ones’ neighbours, the rationing, and finally the spirit of community). I read the novel during lockdown and a lot of this reflected that weird and worrying time. That time of being on the cusp… and yet at the same time hanging about and not really doing much of a muchness…

Anyway, the above has all been so much filler… I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my reading year. My ‘actual’ year, not so much… . Here in all its glory is my top twenty for 2020. Drum roll please…

The ‘Andy’ chart 2020

  1. The Strangler by William Landay
  2. Knife by Jo Nesbo
  3. If it Bleeds by Stephen King
  4. Reamde by Neal Stephenson
  5. Big Sky by Kate Atkinson
  6. Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay
  7. The Saturday Night Ghost Club by Craig Davidson
  8. Growing Things and Other Stories by Paul Tremblay
  9. Starve Acre by Andrew Michael Hurley
  10. The Kingdom by Jo Nesbo
  11. The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
  12. The Truants by Kate Weinberg
  13. Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell
  14. Unbury Carol by Josh Malerman
  15. Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan
  16. You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce
  17. Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith
  18. The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters by Balli Kaur Jaswal
  19. The Age of Football: The Global Game in the Twenty-First Century by David Goldblatt
  20. This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor by Adam Kay

Honourable mentions to the other books I read this year:

Before the Poison by Peter Robinson; Mystery by Peter Straub; The Secret Commonwealth: The Book of Dust Volume Two by Philip Pullman; Italian Shoes by Henning Mankell; Garden of Beasts by Jeffery Deaver; Dead Like You by Peter James; The Rooster Bar by John Grisham; The Testaments by Margaret Atwood; A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hamill; Storm of the Century by Stephen King; Transcription by Kate Atkinson; The Twenty-Seventh City by Jonathan Franzen; Godblind by Anna Stephens; Inside Story by Martin Amis; Traffic: Why we Drive the Way we do (and what it says about us) by Tom Vanderbilt; Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix; The Call of the Weird: Travels in American Subcultures by Louis Theroux; Rather be the Devil by Ian Rankin; The Shell Collector by Anthony Doerr; The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce; Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty; The Cockroach by Ian McEwan; Butter by Erin Lange; The Reckoning by John Grisham; The Psalm Killer by Chris Pet;it; The Other Girl by C.D. Major; The Twisted Playground by Bryan Forbes; No Nonsense: The Autobiography by Joey Barton; Growing up with Subbuteo: My Dad Invented the World’s Greatest Football Game by Mark Adolph; Legacy of Lies by Robert Bailey; Inconceivable by Ben Elton; Thief River Falls by Brian Freeman; The Missing Sister by Elle Marr; The Flowers of Manchester: Remembering the Busby Babes by Ivan Ponting; The Lucifer Club by Mark Gatiss; The Black Phone by Joe Hill; Trust No One by Debra Webb; Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas by Adam Kay; How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie; Good Friday by Lynda La Plante; Suffer the Little Children by Donna Leon; Lockdown by Peter May; Man in the Middle by Karis Dowsell; Eating People is Wrong by Malcolm Bradbury; Ten Words by Jeremy Waite; Last Rites by Neil White; The Bone Jar by S.W. Kane; The Silence by Daisy Pearce; The Names of the Dead by Kevin Wignall; Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships by Eric Berne M.D.; Potty, Fartwell & Knob: Extraordinary but True Names of British People by Russell Ash; The Stone Man by Luke Smitherd; In the Dark by Richard Laymon; The President is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson

*The Shelterbox Book Club – Look it up online and give it a try… You can discover themes, cultures and stories inspired by people and places in the real world – people who have been helped by ShelterBox in an emergency. Join a unique community of over 2,000 book lovers today and help disaster-hit families with every book you read.

Some thoughts on the chart…

This year’s winner, The Strangler, came highly recommended by Stephen King, so I knew I’d love it, but not as much as I actually did. It was an incredibly filmic book: one part The Departed, one part Goodfellas, one part Good Will Hunting (all those Bahston accents). It’s set in 1963, against a backdrop of the Kennedy assassination and – yes – the reign of terror of the Boston Strangler. But it focuses firmly on one family – and more particularly on the three sons of this family – of cops and robbers. Great stuff. Incidentally, last year’s winner, Dennis Lehane is a very similar writer to Landay…

Also in the top three are Jo Nesbo (I know, more crime) and Stephen King: two of the biggest-hitters in fiction right now. Nesbo rocked up in fourth place in last year’s chart with a stand-alone thriller (Macbeth) and came near as dammit to top spot this year with a new offering from his excellent Harry Hole series. King, who’s one of my all-time favourite writers hasn’t charted so highly in my recent charts, but mostly that’s on account of the fact that I think his older work is much better than his recent stuff, some of which has been quite… flabby. Not his short stories though, and his collection If it Bleeds is his best work for quite a while.

Neal Stephenson’s Reamde weighs in in fourth place in the chart. And it damn near breaks the scales. It’s the reason that – despite local lockdowns meaning I should have fair racked up the books-read – I barely read three that month. But it is fantastic. Tolkien-esque in scale but not in style: this is the new fantasy, straddling the real world and an in-game fantasy world, at times the line between both is blurred.

Also worthy of note is Paul Tremblay, who has not one but two entries in the top ten this year (a novel and a short story collection). Tremblay has been the one constant in my Andy charts over the years (just like baseball is the one constant in the movie Field of Dreams). In 2017 he boasted two from my top three and in 2018 he was my number one. In 2019 he only missed out because I didn’t read anything of his. If you haven’t trembled at a Tremblay yet – what are you waiting for, huh?

All in all, though, a fantastic year for reading. Which is a good job because it’s been pretty damned shitty for everything else.

The excellent Comms Unplugged has today published my new blog about #Movember. Read it, and weep. And, please, consider donating to my appeal.

Props to my daughter, Peggy, too. This is her first published picture credit.

I’ve had a new comms-y blog post published on the comms2point0 site today. You can read it here. It also features in their new emag, which you can sign up for on the website.

comms2point0

Small man review

Interested? You can buy the book here.

Small Man Cover

Perfect world review

Interested? You can buy the book here.

perworld

 

My prolific couple weeks’ blogging has continued today with my blog on personal and professional values – which first featured on the comms2point0 site – now taken up by the NHS Employers bulletin. You can read the blog here.

NHS Employers

NHS Employers2