Regular readers may recall that around this time last year I wrote a summary of my previous 12 months. In it I complained about how busy I’d been on the basis that I’d moved house, co-written a book, was the parent of a child and was working a full-time job. Well present-day me laughs a derisive and dryly hollow laugh in the face of 2017 me, a lazy, blinkered idiot who just doesn’t know how good he has it. One year on you find me the father of two children, one of whom, you may have mathematically deduced, is very much a baby. A lovely, wonderful, funny baby of course, but – Whither sleep! Whither free time! Whither comprehensible thought! – a baby nonetheless. And yet I plodded on like a dray horse, co-authoring another book, editing yet another one, and continuing to work a full-time office job.
To turn to the books, this year I once again worked with my occasional collaborator Jenn Ashworth on a slim horror novel. Plunge Hill is set in the early 1970s in a hospital in the remote north and is composed of the letters of a newly arrived typist and the entries in the diary she discovers which appear to have been written by her predecessor.
And then there was We Were Strangers. I’ve grown to long for some kind of macro which makes it so that when I type ‘We Were Strangers’, it automatically adds ‘an anthology of stories each of which takes its title and inspiration from a track on Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures’. Because LORD how I am sore weariéd of typing that out.
Anyway, as that iceberg sized paragraph indicates, while We Were Strangers dominated my year, creatively and actually, there were other goings-on. I had only one piece of new fiction published in 2018, but it made up for this scantiness by finding a home in This Dreaming Isle, a knockout anthology from Unsung Stories.
Like in 2017, my reading in 2018 has once again been an exercise in inconsistency. The editorial positions I’ve taken up mean I have read hundreds of short stories this year, almost all of them presently unpublished but some of them quite brilliant. But as far as the purely recreational reading of contemporary novels goes, 2018 been something of a relatively fallow season. I did enjoy the works of a couple of authors whose work I edited – my absolute favourite 2018 book was Jessie Greengrass’s Sight, which occupies that fascinating, liminal space between novel and nonfiction. I first encountered Jessie's writing when the eye-catching cover art and title of her short story collection, An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It, well, caught my eye. Sight, as a title, may sound as though a change of tack is being signposted, and the careful protractedness of prose which made Auk such a stong and consistent collection has been traded in for brevity. While that isn't the case, there is a directness and a candidness which seemed to divide critics broadly between people who loved it (who mostly seemed to be women) and those who were rather baffled (who mostly seemed to be men). For me it satisfied something I hadn't quite noticed I was lacking, a hunger I have for a particular type of writing: steely, rich, incisive and unapologetically serious, all of which Sight provides in undiluted abundance. (I also loved this short piece by Jessie on the benefits of being too busy to write.)
As with last year, the books which I found stuck with me most were a pair of true crime titles. Last year I encountered Carol Ann Lee’s biography of Myra Hindley, One of Your Own, which led me to read a number of her other books. The best of which has been The Murders at the White House Farm, a retelling of Jeremy Bamber who was in 1986 was convicted of the killing of his adoptive parents, his adoptive sister Sheila and her twin sons in an elaborate murder designed to frame Sheila which took place on the parents' farmhouse in Essex. Since then, Bamber has made it his lifelong work to campaign for his release, claiming, often with apparent credibility, that he is innocent. The Murders at the White House Farm is a scrupulous examination of the case, meticulously detailing what took place on the night in question and in the subsequent investigation, but it's also very much about the personalities involved and their lifelong conflicts which led up to the murders. Lee herself avoids commenting on where precisely she stands on the subject of Bamber’s guilt, but her conclusions, when they come, make it devastatingly clear that realistically there could only have been one course of events. I think the book I'm most looking forward to next year is Carol Ann Lee's latest, Somebody's Mother, Somebody's Daughter, a timely reframing of Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, from the point of view of his numerous female victims.
I also listened to the audiobook of The People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry during the summer, mostly in the evenings, when I would walking the streets of my neighbourhood with my baby son in his sling to help him get some sleep. As such it emphasised the book’s woozy, neon-lit quality. The People Who Eat Darkness, which relates the brutal murder in 2000 of Lucie Blackman, a young woman from Kent who was working at the time as a hostess in Tokyo, is as much about the grisly act as it is about the curious vagaries of Japansese society and, therefore, the curious vagaries society as a whole, and the very real, very compromised individuals caught up in a nightmare of cross-continental dimensions, all of which darkly blossomed from the appetites of one highly disturbed perpetrator.
Kids See Ghosts – Kids See Ghosts
Low - Double Negative
Alias and Doseone – Less is Orchestra
Daniel Knox - Chasescene
Noname – Room 25
| || |
| || || |