January might be, strictly speaking, in the accepted way of things, the first month of the new year with December the last of the old.
But to me that is entirely inaccurate.
September is the month that starts the whole ball rolling again just as June completes it.
Which leaves July and August as delightfully free ranging, untethered times where anything goes.
Of course this habit of thinking that the year runs from September to late June or early July no doubt stems from spending endless decades in the education system from the age of 4 and a half onwards. The thrill of new unsullied exercise books, sharpened pencils and pristine pencil cases never quite goes away – although the contemporary school student no doubt thinks more along the lines of charged iPads and phones and making sure their social media profile is up to scratch and ready to confront the new school year.
So, allowing for my recalculation of the year’s end, this is the point at which to consider my author/reader year.
It’s been, on the one hand, productive and varied; on the other, somewhat thwarted in certain areas …
I have read a great deal. I have loved novels by Sue Miller such as The Arsonist and The World Below – I read Monogamy last summer and can highly recommend that too. For some reason I seem to have a particular affection for female American novelists and also enjoyed very much Suzanne Berne’s novel A Crime in the Neighborhood.
Continuing with the American theme, I discovered to my joy that there was an early Anne Tyler novel that I had never read – I have no idea how Searching for Caleb passed me by, but it was a wonderful discovery. As always, Tyler’s evocation of the very ordinary as well as the extraordinary is powerful and I found it a haunting novel.
In late April and for much of May, I resorted to reading some of Monica Dickens’ novels – an author I associate with my first tentative ventures into the adult section of the library away from the children’s in my early teens.
In no way are her novels considered literary fiction these days; yet she writes good stories with believable characters and situations and I loved The Winds of Heaven set in the 1950s – life for women in that post war decade was really so very limited and prescribed and the novel reminds us of that. I also enjoyed Dickens’ autobiographical My Turn to Make the Tea – again a piece of social history which is also highly entertaining.
Still in a nostalgic mood for 20th century novels as I nursed by fractured shoulder slowly back to life and coaxed the bones to heal, I read several Muriel Spark novels, beautifully crafted, economically written and just small masterpieces. Girls of Slender Means is, of course, a modern classic and if you haven’t read it, you are in for a considerable treat. How she manages to say so much and capture and define character so fully in few words is breathtaking. From the very opening, the reader is hooked:
Long ago in 1945 all the nice people in England were poor, allowing for exceptions.
Or at least this reader was!
I also enjoyed Symposium – and can do no better than use the review on the back which describes it as a dangerous, devilish book – stiletto-sharp fiction.
And the discovery of Mary Lawson’s A Town called Solace on the library shelves the other week – I would describe her novels as quiet and poignant with wonderful characterisation and evocation of family life and setting – brought me far more up to date as this is her most recent novel although in fact it is set in 1972 and is an evocative, affecting read.
As for events, the return of the London Book Fair, the Matador Self-Publishing Conference as well as the South Bank Self-publishing Show were all so welcome after their Covid cancellations for the past two years. As always, it’s meeting other writers as much as what is gained from the seminars themselves that is so vital and enjoyable.
My September to July 2021 to 2022 year has seen a great deal of writing – my novel in progress (nearing completion) – and the publication of a piece of my flash fiction in a print anthology. In addition, my pseudonym, Polly Dodd, has been busy producing her first eBook of light short fiction – Testing the Waters and other Stories – currently available on Amazon – 12 stories, some adapted from previously published stories in women’s magazines and others entirely new.
Disappointingly, my plans to attend several fairs to sell my novels through May, June and early July were curbed by – I won’t mention it again, but let’s just say that crowds have been best avoided recently! Autumn and winter, however, should see those events in my calendar again.
Enjoy this deliciously non-time of summer – in order to be ready for the start of the true New Year in September!