First and foremost, a very happy new year to you all! Secondly, apologies for the lack of blogging of late – a combination of the exigencies of the festive season (which seemed to pull off the unique feat of both creeping up on me unexpectedly and then lasting for far longer than usual) and a concentration of my remaining non-present-hunting, non-wrapping, non-relative-visiting time on making as much progress as possible on the third book in the Stannard trilogy. Still, that’s all done and dusted now, so it’s time to return to the blogosphere!
Inevitably, the last few days and weeks have seen a surfeit of those ‘review of the year’ programmes and newspaper articles, with the added bonus this time of their inevitable ‘review of the decade’ cousins, so I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon – especially because on 1 January 2010, this blog didn’t exist (the first post wasn’t until August 2011) so I haven’t been able to do this before. So, then, it’s time to climb into the Tardis and journey back to a time when there was still a Labour prime minister and a Democratic president, Boris Johnson was Mayor of London and Donald Trump was presenting The Apprentice, Ed Sheeran was an unknown teenager and Sunderland were still in the Premier League.
- On 1 January 2010 I’d published precisely one novel, Gentleman Captain, which had come out in the previous summer, and two non-fiction books: Gentlemen and Tarpaulins, published nearly twenty years earlier, and Pepys’s Navy which had recently won the Samuel Pepys prize. Since then, I’ve somehow published twelve books in ten years – three non-fiction, including another prize-winner in the shape of Kings of the Sea, and nine fiction titles, seven more in the Quinton series and two in the Stannard trilogy, with the third to come some time in 2020. Looking back, I’m not entirely sure how I did all that…
- …especially as in 2010-11 I spent a fair bit of time out in Dubai, where the ‘LadyQJ’ of my Twitter feed was working at the time. I’d actually been there at the previous new year, when the ruler cancelled the celebrations in solidarity with the Palestinians. We had some terrific times out there, fitting in extended trips to Egypt and most memorably to Syria, just three months before the devastating civil war broke out there. I’m particularly thankful that we were probably among the last westerners to visit Palmyra before ISIS destroyed so much of it.
- Other travel highlights of the last decade included Sweden in 2011 (principally to research The Lion of Midnight), Venice in 2012, Sicily in 2015, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Karlskrona in 2017, France in 2018 (chiefly to pay my respects at my great-uncle’s grave on the centenary of his death in the First World War), and the USA and Germany in 2019. There were plenty of trips within the UK too, but the standout destination of the decade has to be Orkney (never, ever, ‘the Orkneys’), which we first visited in 2013, instantly fell in love with, and have returned to several times since (this blog, passim).
- And finally, some of my completely biased, subjective and one-eyed* highlights of the decade…
- Best novel that I’ve read which was written by somebody else – tricky, especially as Wolf Hall is technically disqualified because it was published in 2009…so I’ll just have to cop out and settle on its sequel, Bring Up The Bodies. And yes, like much of the English-speaking reading public I can’t wait for the publication this coming March of the final book in the trilogy. Hmm, March is just in time for my birthday. Just saying.
- Best non-fiction book that I’ve read – undoubtedly Great Minds and How to Grow Them, by somebody with whom I have no connection whatsoever (ahem).
- Best film I’ve seen – undoubtedly Adult Life Skills, starring the delightful Jodie Whittaker and produced by somebody else with whom…etc etc. (Seriously, being at the Edinburgh film festival for the European premiere was a highlight and a half.)
- Best TV – tricky, as there’ve been so many terrific shows, so I’ll pick out an entire genre which didn’t exist ten years ago, when Welsh TV consisted chiefly of programmes about hymn singing, farming and rugby (as indeed it still does on some evenings). Enter Welsh Noir, which makes Scandinavian Noir look like Mamma Mia. If you haven’t yet caught up with the likes of Hinterland, Keeping Faith and Hidden, why on earth not?
- Most notable arrival – a baby produced by somebody else with whom…etc etc.
- Most notable departure – my late mother, whose life and loss I blogged about here.
Plans for 2020? Well, I’m contracted to get the third Stannard book to the publisher by the end of April, but after that, there’s nothing firm in the schedule – indeed, it’ll be the first time in over ten years that I’ve not had at least one book contract on the go at any one time. So watch this space for developments!
* This metaphor has a particular resonance for me. My grandfather was a rugby referee, so was well used to the insult regularly flung by players and spectators at referees in all sports, along the lines of ‘oi, ref, you’re a one-eyed cheating ****!’ However, he might have been the only referee in the country who had the absolutely perfect response to this – he literally did have only one eye.