Merry Christmas, and a happy new year, all. Here goes… It says a lot about my writing year that my previous post on my writerly blog was almost exactly a year ago, and wasn’t about writing at all but reading. I haven’t written anything like as much as I’ve wanted to over the past few years. Life’s got in the way. And I know that ain’t an excuse. Stephen King doesn’t allow it to be an excuse – if you want to be a writer you write because it’s what you do, and you do it every day come rain, shine, hangover, kids or crucial derby match. But I’m going to cut myself some slack here. And if I’m not going to write, I can at least keep my eye in by reading, as often as is humanly possible, as voraciously as possible, and with as much variety as possible.

Hence this list, which allows me to track just how much I’m reading. For those of you who don’t know, the ‘Andy’s’ are my attempt to ‘chart’ my reading habits over a year. They’re supposed to help me read more and also make it easy for me to recommend good books to others. 2017’s chart expanded the qualifying criteria from short stories to novels, and 2018 went even bigger – I included all books I’d read. Fiction, non-fiction, short story collections, sports books. Yeah, the whole shebang. I’ve done the same again in 2019.

In 2017 I read a whopping 75 novels. Wowzers. Last year, my total fell some way short of that but I was still very pleased with my grand total of 61 books. This year, my grand totalizer is again down on the previous year, but still works out at over a book a week across the whole year. I’ve read 57 books.

The below graphic charts my most committed reading months. As you can see this year there’s been a pretty steep drop-off over the past couple of months. Strangely this has come in winter, when the nights draw in… You’d have expected I’d read more at this time of year. All I can say in response to that is that I’ve been reading some pretty epic tomes recently… And make of this what you will: one of the months in which I read by far the most books coincided with Love Island, which my partner watched religiously. There are probably other similar ‘coincidences’ for the other book-heavy months…

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Anyway, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my reading year. I’ve read some absolutely fantastic stuff, and some stuff which was maybe less so, so you don’t have to. Here in all its glory is my top twenty for 2019. Drum roll please…

  1. World Gone By by Dennis Lehane
  2. The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
  3. All that Man is by David Szalay
  4. Macbeth by Jo Nesbo
  5. The Chestnut Man by Soren Sveistrup
  6. Lennox by Craig Russell
  7. The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
  8. My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
  9. Lullaby by Leila Slimani
  10. In a House of Lies by Ian Rankin
  11. The Little Friend by Donna Tartt
  12. Mr. Toppit by Charles Elton
  13. The Power by Naomi Alderman
  14. Child Star by Matt Thorne
  15. Normal People by Sally Rooney
  16. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
  17. Kill the Angel by Sandrone Dazieri
  18. Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps that tell you Everything you need to know about Global Politics by Tim Marshall
  19. Manchester, England: The Story of the Pop-Cult City by Dave Haslam
  20. The Institute by Stephen King

Honourable mentions to the other books I read this year: Slick by Daniel Price; The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris; The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen; The Fix: Soccer and Organised Crime by Declan Hill; The Whisper Man by Alex North; Melmoth by Sarah Perry; Devoured by Anna Mackmin; To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris; Ghost Story by Toby Litt; Hot Milk by Deborah Levy; The Sellout by Paul Beatty; Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly; Gray Mountain by John Grisham; The Talisman by Stephen King & Peter Straub; Salem Falls by Jodi Picoult; The Last by Hanna Jameson; The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson; The Devil Crept In by Ania Ahlborn; Class of 92: Out of our League by Rob Draper (with Nicky Butt, Phil Neville, Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs, and Paul Scholes); Everything Under by Daisy Johnson; Stone Cold by C.J. Box; What we’re Teaching our Sons by Owen Booth; Scrublands by Chris Hammer; The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley; My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante; Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Book Store by Robin Sloan; My Dad Wrote a Porno by Jamie Morton, James Cooper, Alice Levine & Rocky Flintstone; The Gestalt Switch by Alan Devey; Milkman by Anna Burns; The Boy in the Suit Case by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis; Heap House by Edward Carey; New Fears Ed. Mark Morris; The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks; I See You by Clare Mackintosh; Water Shall Refuse Them by Lucie McKnight Hardy; Cari Mora by Thomas Harris; Cottingley by Alison Littlewood.

Some observations: So, the Paul Tremblay show is over. After boasting two out of my top three in 2017, and winning the damned thing last year, this thoroughly modern horror writer misses out in 2019. Mainly this is on account of he hasn’t published anything. Therefore we have a new winner: one Dennis Lehane, whose World Gone By stood out like a sawn-off (sore) thumb in terms of quality, story, and readability. I’m a sucker for a good crime fiction, just as I am a horror yarn, and this is damned good crime fiction.

The only book which pushed Lehane’s remotely close was Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls, which is a new perspective on the Trojan War. Trust me: you’ll never see Achilles in the same light again. In any other year, Barker would probably have carried off my top honour, but this year, for one reason or another, I craved crime.

This leaning towards crime bears out over the list in general. The top of the list is much more weighted towards crime fiction than last year, with heavyweights such as Jo Nesbo, Ian Rankin and Dennis Lehane charting highly, allied with new (to me) writers such as Scandi-noir’s Soren Sveistrup, Nigeria’s Oyinkan Braithwaite (who turns the traditional crime narrative on its head) and Scotland’s Lehane-a-like Craig Russell also doing very well.

Speaking of crime, notable repeat offenders on the Andy list were the aforementioned Lehane (who last year charted well with Before the War, a previous title in his crime series) and Sandrone Dazieri, who made the list back in 2017 (with a previous title from his own series). Look out for work by both of these writers. Other authors across all genres who’ve appeared in multiple ‘Andy’ lists include Michael Connolly, Jodi Picoult, John Grisham, Alan Devey, and of course Stephen King.

You’ll notice there wasn’t much non-fiction: just three titles made my top twenty-five (Tim Marshall’s excellent Prisoners of Geography, Dave Haslam’s Manchester, England: The Story of the Pop-Cult City, and Declan Hill’s The Fix: Soccer and Organised Crime) but that speaks more to my particular tastes more than anything, and it’s no coincidence that two of that three are about topics close to my heart: Manchester and football…

And amazingly, for a former critic of short story collections (I worked for the Short Review) there’s only one short story collection in the whole list. Again, there’s no rhyme nor reason for this. It’s just the way things have fallen this year. My reading list is very random.

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The reason for the randomness of my reading list: It must be said that the diversity of my reading has been much improved by the ‘little library’ at the end of our road. My neighbours read some very weird and very wonderful shit! My neighbours probably say the same about me. The little library down our road always contains hidden treasure and this year it’s really broadened my reading horizons. They’re a fantastic concept. The other reason I mention them – other than their all round brilliance – is this year Carry Franklin (above), the founder of Leeds Little Free Libraries, died. Her obituary was in The GuardianAnd in the Yorkshire Evening Post

And I’d like to encourage all of you to carry on her legacy if you’re in Leeds or anywhere! Go on, take a chance on a new book… I’m told there are now free little libraries as far afield as Lormes, in Burgundy, France, and in New Mills, Derbyshire (God only knows what the neighbours’ll be reading in those places!)

Find a little library near you in Leeds here.

The ‘Andy’ Awards 2018

Posted: December 23, 2018 in Events, Writing Talk

It’s that time of year again. Darkness bookends the day so snugly that you start to feel like you barely get to see the sun. It’s cold. Wet. Windy. Shiny decorations are up in the trees and on the streets. The same songs on repeat in all the shops. It can mean only one thing: it’s time to announce the winners and losers in the year’s ‘Andy’ Awards.

For those of you who don’t know, the ‘Andy’s’ are my attempt to ‘chart’ my reading habits over a year. They’re supposed to help me read more and also make it easy for me to recommend good books to others. Last year’s chart expanded the qualifying criteria from short stories to novels, and this year we’re going even bigger – I’m including all books I’ve read. Fiction, non-fiction, short story collections, sports books. Yeah, the whole shebang.

Last year I brought the ‘Andy’s’ back so I could talk myself into reading more. I read a whopping 75 novels. You can view my chart from last year here. (Article also contains links to previous runners and riders.)

This year, my total falls some way short of that (it hasn’t helped that I started a new job in December 2017 and I’ve thrown myself into it life and soul). But I’m still very pleased with my grand total this year of 61 books (which is still great – still better than a book a week, and I’m pleased with that). The below graphic charts my most committed reading months – unsurprisingly the winter months when the darkness draws in are my most reading-iest. But there’s also a big spike around the summer holidays. Again, no surprises…

Books Read 2018

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my reading year. I’ve read some absolutely fantastic stuff, and some stuff which was maybe less so, so you don’t have to. Here in all its glory is my top twenty for 2018. Drum roll please…

  1. The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay
  2. 4,3,2,1 by Paul Auster
  3. The Gallows Pole by Benjamin Myers
  4. The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel
  5. Dead Man’s Blues by Ray Celestin
  6. Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
  7. Phantom by Jo Nesbo
  8. The Outsider by Stephen King
  9. I am Zlatan Ibrahimovic by David Lagercrantz and Zlatan Ibrahimovic
  10. Halcyon by Rio Youers
  11. Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
  12. A Drink Before the War by Dennis Lehane
  13. Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero
  14. Rusty Puppy by Joe R. Lansdale
  15. A Game of Ghosts by John Connolly
  16. The Late Show by Michael Connelly
  17. Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson
  18. Lethal White by Robert Galbraith
  19. Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
  20. Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View – 40 Stories Celebrating 40 Years of Star Wars by Various Authors

Honourable mentions to the other books I read this year: Gazza in Italy by Daniel Storey; The Mountain by Luca d’Andrea; Lifeless by Mark Billingham; Mister Memory by Marcus Sedgwick; The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton; A Natural by Ross Raisin; Wolf by Mo Hayder; Night Games: A Journey to the Dark Side of Sport by Anna Krien; 13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough; Watching the Dark by Peter Robinson; The Book of Dust Volume One: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman; Devil’s Day by Andrew Michael Hurley; Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult; The Thirst by Jo Nesbo; Strange Weather by Joe Hill; Artemis by Andy Weir; Selfie: How we became so Self-Obsessed and what it’s doing to us by Will Storr; The Sons by Anton Svensson; Die of Shame by Mark Billingham; Rush of Blood by Mark Billingham; The Fifth Woman by Henning Mankell; I am Behind You by John Ajvide Lindqvist; In the Dark by Mark Billingham; Garden of Evil by Graham Masterton; The Partner by John Grisham; The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter; A Conspiracy of Tall Men by Noah Hawley; History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund; The Sacrifice Box by Martin Stewart; Fall Down Dead by Stephen Booth; Path of Needles by Alison Littlewood; If I Ever Fall by S.D. Robertson; Border Songs by Jim Lynch; Outside the Comfort Zone: Tales from Austerity Britain by Alan Devey; Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King; No Hunger in Paradise by Michael Calvin; The Bad Place by Dean Koontz; Wakening the Crow by Stephen Gregory; Cast Iron by Peter May; The White Tower by Cathryn Constable.

Some observations: Paul Tremblay dominates the chart for the second year running. Though Dave Eggers’ The Circle walked off with the ‘Andy’ for my favourite book of the year, Tremblay boasted both the number two and the number three slot in the chart, with A Head Full of Ghosts and Disappearance at Devil’s Rock respectively. This year he’s gone one better, securing the top novel award, and I couldn’t recommend this author more. He’s as compulsive a read as Stephen King at his best, but his is a thoroughly modern take on an often clichéd genre. Tremblay makes horror/ dark fiction new and exciting. Get on it.

Literary heavyweight Paul Auster takes the runner-up slot with his super-heavyweight 4,3,2,1, a book which takes you so far into the mind of its protagonist that at times you think you are him. Though it is hard work at times, the book is worth it. And then some. Auster’s writing is far from austere here and at the end you come out feeling like you’ve truly lived the lives of some of the characters.

Benjamin Myers completes my top three. The Gallows Pole is like an unholy mix of Game of Thrones, Wolf Hall, and Kes. It’s brilliant. What a voice! Myers once competed with me for The Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize. His novel won out over my Paint this town Red. He deserved it. He deserves even more for this offering.

Halcyon by Rio Youers makes the top ten (just). A decade (or so) ago, Rio and I shared a table of contents in a dark fiction anthology, and it’s stunning to see just how far his writing has progressed in that time (I’m not jealous, honest).

‘Darker’ fiction (crime and horror) again dominates the top of my chart, but my expanded criteria for inclusion means that a couple of non-fiction works have made the top twenty. Michael Finkel’s extraordinary book The Stranger in the Woods makes number four in my list.

Metafiction, and stories which are playful with the way stories are put together, also does well this year. Particular highlights are Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders, Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids, and The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton are cases in point.

Finally, sports books do well, especially those about sporting outsiders, or mavericks. I am Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a tour de force in the exploration of sporting ego (and is also very funny), and forms an interesting counterpoint to Gazza in Italy by Daniel Storey, whilst Anna Krien’s Night Games is a chilling exposition of the darker side of sport – in this case Aussie Rules Football – (and masculinity).

 

 

Now The Guardian’s at it; advertising my really quite grim book on what United’s appointment of ‘The (not so) Special One’ says about Manchester United and the Premier League alongside a very negative piece on Mourinho by the writer Jonathan Wilson. You can take a look here.

Kicking a man when he’s down, eh?

Remember, you can buy the book from here. Help it on its inexorable rise towards Christmas number 1 (it’s already the 21st best-selling Premier League book, a full two years after its publication) at the same time as the team plummets…

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Following on from The Daily Express last week digging out a quote from my book Jose Mourinho: The Art of Winning this week Tribal Football have again delved into my archives to pull out some stuff about Mourinho’s cardboard cutout (with a hidden tape recorder). You can read the piece here.

And you can buy the book here.

The Daily Express is this week using a quote from my book Jose Mourinho: The Art of Winning as (another) stick with which to beat (the delightful) Manchester United manager. Here’s a link to the piece – scroll down for the quote (and the pull-out).

And remember to buy your copy of the book while stocks last (or while Jose lasts) from here.

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My recent novel I Am Just Going Outside features in the December 2018 issue of Writers’ News magazine, in the Subscriber Spotlight section. There’s a snippet below.

Remember to join the conversation on Twitter, using the hashtag #outsidenovel, or, if you haven’t bought your copy of the book yet, go here.

Outside Writers News

The first review of I Am Just Going Outside and May Be Some Time has now been posted to Amazon… and it’s a good one. Four stars. Thanks to Al Devey for this.

You can buy the book here, and you can join the conversation on social media by following the hashtag: #outsidenovel.

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