Book of the Year 2019: ‘The Night Circus’ by Erin Morgenstern

I didn’t get to read many books this year. As I discussed in my earlier post, my commuting time – which is my main reading time – has been given over to studying, slashing my reading in half (based on the number of books I read this year against 2018).

But even if I’d had a large pool of books to select from, I can’t imagine another one pulling me in as deeply as The Night Circus.

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Yes, once again I’m choosing a book that wasn’t published this year. But as much as I would like my pick for the year to be more currently, I have to select from the pool available.

The words I used to describe this story at the time were “comfortable without feeling worn, and elegant without being pretentious”. I still feel those are the most accurate. I can already imagine coming back to this book again and again, immersing myself in the pages and rediscovering the beauty and the magic.

The true beauty of The Night Circus is how Morgenstern ensures the pure magic of the circus itself blends with the everyday sections. We see Le Circe des Reves, the Night Circus itself, from the point of view of the world’s public and also from behind the scenes. It is both magical and everyday. Something spectacular and unreal, and yet still grounded in a reality. The perfect setting for a contest of magic where neither participant knows exactly who their opponent is.

Don’t expect fast paced. But also don’t expect slow and bloated. This novel is exactly the right length as it travels through a cast of characters who all feel unique and alive. This isn’t a story of two protagonists with a background cast passing through and appearing only when needed. This is the story of a the world the protagonists live in, fleshed out and real.

I’m pretty sure I’ll come back to this book relatively soon. And when I do I will likely sink right back into it with a smile on my face.

And I received Morganstern’s new novel – The Starless Sea – as a Christmas gift. So I’ll be throwing myself into that as soon as possible.

2019: Looking back, then forward

2019. It’s been… quite a year. Somehow both incredibly stressful and also the most rewarding year in my life for quite some time. Honestly, I’ve had to really struggle to get through at some points. But it’s also held some of the highlights of my entire life.5456FA1F-29F6-4035-BDF1-2AED40FA9345_1_201_a

I also turned 36. I am officially mid- to late-thirties.

So while I recover the amount of food I’ve consumed over the last two weeks, let’s get on with my now traditional look at the year gone and plans to come.

2019, and things that have been

So. Why has 2019 been so stressful? Well, as life has a way of ensuring nothing is ever simple, the reasons are mixed.

Let’s start with the day job. I’ve been lucky to see my career progress this year, and as part of that I’ve been put on a leadership and management training scheme. It’s a really good course, but it’s been very time consuming. A required 448 hours of tracked work outside of normal work hours kind of time consuming.

And that’s meant goodbye free time. Commuting to work? Podcasts and management books. Free evening? Settle in on my laptop to study. A non-free evening? Still on the laptop.

And while I’ve honestly enjoyed the course and got a lot out of it, it’s been draining. Largely because I’ve not got to do all the things I do to relax in my free time. And that means reading and writing. According to my GoodReads challenge I’ve literally read half the books I read last year. And any time I could have spent writing has had to be given over to studying. So I’ve go so much less done that I’ve wanted to. I haven’t managed to get What They Really Know completed like I planned. However I have managed to plan out and get a good way into A Better Thing We Do.

What They Really Know is getting put on hiatus for a while. No matter how much work I put into it, it’s just coming. Something about it just doesn’t fit. Having had a good hard look at it, I’m thinking the issue may be I’m trying to write two books at once. So I’m taking a step back. Once I complete the first draft of A Better Thing We Do I’ll go back to it. Hopefully by then the ideas I have will percolate in my subconscious and I’ll see what needs doing.

It will be incredibly frustrating if I need to spilt it, but I need to look at it as double the number of books I have on the go rather than falling back on the progress of one.

But there has also been another big thing happen to me this year that has caused additional stress. But this time it’s the stress of accepting and learning to handle seismic yet positive change. The sort of stress I wouldn’t give up for the world.

This time last year Frankie and I had some long discussions about where out lives and relationship were going. To cut a long story short, we decided that we wanted to experience polyamory.

For those of you unfamiliar with the phrase, polyamory is a form of ethical non-monogamy; the practice of loving more than one person. It doesn’t mean you love anyone less. Frankie and I still love each other and are committed to our marriage. It just means that love is non-exclusive.

The example I like to use is how having a second child doesn’t mean you love the first child less. There is simply more love in your life. That’s how I see it. There is simply more love in our lives.

Since this decision I have met and fallen in love with a wonderful woman. If you follow my social media you’ll have seen her. She means the world to me. It hasn’t hurt that she and Frankie get on like a house on fire. They have proclaimed themselves Sister-Wives (I phrase I love because they use it in the Wheel of Time series). Our anniversary will be in March. To be honest, neither of us had thought about this relationship becoming so serious. Neither of us had been polyamorous before, and had expecting thing to remain simple and casual. But the heart wants what the heart wants.9B938B27-9E12-48A8-97E6-BBC56752C4C1_1_201_a

It’s not been easy. This lifestyle change has meant us accepting new people into our lives, which means more demands on our time and energy. And it also entails breaking with societal norms hardwired into us from birth, which means there are few support structures out there. There has been a lot of reading, research, and communication. So much communication. And we’ve found friends in the same scene who we’ve been able to talk about it all with. The poly community – as much of it as we’ve interacted with so far – has been amazing and accepting.

There’s more I could say here, but I think I’m going to put in into a future post where I can focus in more details. Drop me any questions and I’ll see if I can answer them.

And look, I managed to increase my blog posts this year. Most of them are sporadic book reviews, but it’s better than nothing. It keeps this alive, at any rate.

2020, and things that are to come

So here we are in the roaring twenties. What are we expecting in the next twelve months?

So firstly I’m going to get through my training course. I’m hoping to be done with all the coursework needed by the end of January, then the course itself ends in March. Once that’s all done, I’m planning to take all the time I’ve dedicated to studying to writing.

79F69240-D612-45EC-A2D6-2B15A8BBBA44_1_201_aAnd with that freed up writing time I’m hoping to get A Better Thing We Do finished. It’s been so long since I finished a book, but this one – touch wood – is coming so much faster than anything before. I got all the core ideas down and then – with some great help from Frankie – blocked out the entire plot. I’m now about half way through the first draft.

In comparison, it took about over a year to work out where What They Really Know was going, and I’m still not happy with it.

Of course, the whole point of the training is growing my role in the day-job. This last year has made we very aware of stress. I’ve seen what stress has done to people in my family, so I’m very aware of burnout. Hopefully there have been some steps that will make this year easier with work, so we’ll see that that goes.

And, of course, we’ll be seeing how our second year of polyamory goes.

Things change. As the decade ends I’ve begun to feel exactly how true those words are. Looking back where I am now, I couldn’t have seen where I am now. Go back five years, and I wouldn’t have been able to predicte it. Go back ten years and the place I am now would have been completely alien to me. Fifteen years back and it would have probably terrified me.

Let’s just say I’m excited to see where the year takes us.

Onward, to 2020.

 

 

Recommendation: “The War of the Wolf” by Bernard Cornwell

Now an old man, Uhtred of Bebbanburg finds himself drawn back to Wessex by old oaths and the inevitable coming invasion of Northumbria. But while an ailing King Edward means that soon he’ll find himself marching south, for now he is drawn north by personal vengeance and what may be his final battle.

I’ve heard a lot of criticism about Bernard Cornwall’s series being very samey. I can understand the argument. But I still find that each once is just as readable as the last, and I’ve been waiting eagerly for War of the Wolf to come out in paperback.

I think these books avoid seeming too similar by being based on history. The characters are driven by on actual events, and so while the plot and characters may undeniably have a similarity across all the books, the fact they are draped over the backdrop of history gives them a realism they might otherwise have lacked.

Saying that, I would have though I’d have liked this one less. The majority of the story in War of the Wolf is not based in real events. Essentially, the book sets up the coming death of Edward and rise of Ethelstan that I assume will be the drive of the next story, leaving the majority of the story fictional. But I still enjoyed reading this just as much as the previous stories.

There’s also the fact we’re coming to the end of this series. Uhtred is now in his sixties. And while he, our narrator, can’t die, Cornwall does a very good job of showing age catching up with him. He’s losing speed. He’s still imposing, but lacks the raw power of youth that drove him before. And at the same time, he can see that Christianity is winning, and the old religion, his religion, is passing away. He’s a man beginning to face his own mortality, but in a way that suits the character.

There’s maybe two more books left to this series, assuming that it will end with Ethelstan’s rise as the first king of England (sorry for spoilers, but I think we’re out of the statute of limitations for events over a millennia ago), and War of the Wolf kind of has the feeling of a quick breather before the final push to the climax of the story of the creation of England.

If you’re a fan of the series, that fact is going to leave you more than excited for the next instalment.

2018: Looking back, then forward

Wow. Six months. I’ve really not been good and keeping this blog updated. I wanted to at least post once a month this year, to keep things alive and connecting to you all. That didn’t work out did it? I’ve had plenty of ideas for blog posts. I’ve just either lacked the time or motivation to put them down onto the page. So my bad, sorry.

But now it’s Christmas. The tree is up, the cards have been posted, and I off work until the New Year. So at last I can give this blog some love and catch up with you all.

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The bookshelf is feeling the Christmas spirit

2018, and things that have been

2018 has been a mixed bag. Some amazing highs, some deep lows. So overall, not great but not terrible.

Let’s start with a high, our new house. It’s been a year, and we still love living out here (unless we’re traveling back from Central London late at night). Most things are all sorted now. All the important things anyway. There’s lots of little things that still need to be fixed or put in, but they’ll get picked up as and when we save up the cash.

The biggest low was losing one of my good friends to cancer in the summer. I’ve had grandparents pass away, but that’s something you kind of expect. This is the first time a friend, someone my own age, has died. It’s something different entirely, and the thoughts I’ve had about it have been hard to express. The idea that one of those people I just unthinkingly expected would be around for decades to come has gone forever is… I think the best word to describe it is unsettling. I’ve had a post about my feelings on this in my head for months. I’ve just not managed to get it down onto the page yet. Maybe this year.

On to my writing. Despite my stated goals at the start of the year, I haven’t managed to get my latest book finished. In general my creative energy has been really low this past year. I just haven’t been feeling the mojo. Which is why there have been so few posts on here, really. When I’ve had the time and energy I’ve needed to focus it on the book rather than one off ideas.

One thing I did manage was to get to more writing events. These were a mixed bag.

York Festival of Writing: York, of course, excellent as always. I can’t really say much more about this event than I have before. Three days of writing courses followed by socialising (drinking) with agents and other writers. I caught up with old friends, left with some new ones, and had a couple of agents ask to see my manuscript. Hopefully we’ll see something come from this in 2019.

Edge-Lit / Sledge-Lit: These are one day events in Derby, and I had a great time at these. I stayed in Derby overnight both times, but next time I’ll probably just drive up and back on the day as nothing happens in the evenings. I got to catch up with friends and meet new writers, which was awesome. Also, Edge-Lit comes with a goodie back of books!

Winchester Writing Festival: This one was less of a success. I had high hopes for Winchester, as it looked pretty similar to York. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out like that. While the courses were fine and the Agent one to ones are there, it just lacked the social aspect. People were too spread out, the halls of residence were a ten to fifteen minute uphill walk from the campus, and the bar held a Open-Mic night both nights. While that’s a fine idea, it means you can’t actually talk to anyone. And if I can’t meet and connect with people. what’s the point? I might try it again next year, but I’ll just attend the Saturday and then go home.

 

2019, and things that are to come

My main aim in 2019 is to get What They Really Know 100% complete. It’s been over two years that I’ve been working on this one. It’s been just generally hard to write. The first draft just did not want to come together and while the rewrites were easier I just haven’t felt the creative mojo. I’m still proud of it though. Currently it’s with my Alpha Readers, and as long as none of them come back with any major changes it should be a final round of polishing and copy-edits and then I’ll be ready to send it out. Fingers crossed.

While I’m waiting to hear back I’ve started working on my next project. This one’s working title is A Better Thing We Do. It’s an idea I’ve had in my head for years, and it’s the one I’m most excited to work on next. I’ve been pulling together ideas over the last month, and actually in the last couple of weeks I’ve had a burst of creativity and have the first draft of several chapters in place. So, fingers crossed this one will be easier to write.

Finally, I want to keep this blog updated a little better. Even if all I put up are mini-reviews of books I’m reading or films I’ve seen. Hopefully I’ll manage more than that, but we’ll see.

See you all next year.

Out Now

And remember, both The Serpent’s Eye and The Æther Collection are available now. If you’re looking for a present for the reader or book fan in your life, or just want to pick up a good horror story as a gift for yourself, click the links to grab your copy now.