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If last week’s post was all about taking stock (not drinking it, won’t be making that mistake again) then this one if much more fun, because it’s just a great big list of what I’ve enjoyed this year. Now, bearing in mind I tend to get round to books a good few years after they’re released, and I never get to the cinema any more, the one thing I can claim any current opinions on is music. So let’s start with my top 20 albums of 2018.
20. Allfather – And All Will Be Desolation: One of those rare times where you get to know the people through social media first and then their band turns out to be properly, crackingly good. No nonsense in its approach, this is sludgy thrashtastic metal at its modern finest.
19. KEN Mode – Loved: Given that their last album made it to pride of place in my end of year rankings, it’s hard to see this as anything other than a step backward, no matter how good it is. And that’s true of the music, too, with the band stepping away from the ultra-noise rock stomp of Blessed toward their more chaotic hardcore norm. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still great, but it’s not a pinnacle like Blessed was.
18. Harms Way – Postmortem: This album makes me want to fight dance everyone in whatever room I’m in at the time, so I’ve had to stop listening to it at work, just in case.
17. Cult Leader – A Patient Man: If I had a few more months with this one it would almost certainly be higher up the list. The most extreme noisecore you’ll ever hear nestled alongside harrowingly stark folk. Brilliant.
16. King Buffalo – Repeater: Only an EP, and their follow up album later in the year doesn’t exactly set my world alight, but there’s something achingly lovely about this shimmering, sad stone rock, even if it’s over far too quickly.
15. Messa – Feast for Water: Another album with sadness running through its core, this is all big doom riffs and soaring soul vocals, which is rarely a bad combination. This, however, steps above the rest of the pack. Sublime.
14. Boss Keloid – Melted on the Inch: Speaking of sublime. This is utterly baffling, taking the inventiveness of Leviathan-era Mastodon, the chest pumping song writing of Baroness, and throwing big barrels of heaviness at them until you’ve ended up with something quite odd, but utterly compelling.
13. Sleep – The Sciences: Sleep were always one of those stone rock bands I knew I was supposed to like but never really got the point of, until now. This is absolutely brilliant doom.
12. Black Peaks – All That Divides: If there were any justice, these would be the next big thing in metal. utterly modern, with great song writing, fantastic vocals, and just enough of a pop sensibility to be flung at a mainstream audience.
11. Erdve – Vaitojimas: Bleakest of the bleak. This has been a great year for post metal, a genre that seemed to be disappearing up its own collective misery pipe, but this, like The Atlas Moth and a few others that haven’t quite made the cut, show that there’s life in the old girl yet.
10. Idles – Joy as an Act of Resistance: If Black Peaks are the underground band who deserve the mainstream adulation, Idles are a band about to burst into the mainstream who sound utterly underground. Pop punk without any of the awful connotations of that phrase, this is politically fierce, packed with great songs, and fierce af. Their Later performance will go down alongside the At The drive in one for sheer joy.
9. Yob – Our Raw Heart: As achingly sad as it’s possible to get without becoming Leonard Cohen, this is somehow utterly uplifting, which is no mean feat. Glacial space doom made from tears of sorrow and joy.
8. Dessa – CHIME: I’ve not really listened to much hip hop this year, it’s just not really been my bag for some reason, but this has cut through that. Stridently feminist, as clever as you’d imagine, but pop enough that it’s one of the rare things I put on in the car without making my daughter want to die of embarrassment.
7. Haken – Vector: On a list of what are admittedly pretty bleak albums, this is a little ray of proggy 80’s synth metal that just makes me smile from ear to ear, just like their last album did. It’s a genre I care not a jot for, and it’s absolutely delightful.
6. Fu Manchu – Clone of the Universe. As much as I’ll always enjoy a new Fu Manchu album, I didn’t think I’d ever love a new one again, not like I did when I first heard The Action Is Go. This is astoundingly good, all fuzzed out petrol rock, big riffs flying everywhere before it goes all weird and un Fu at the end with a song that actually goes for longer than ten minutes. Even with that, it never outstays its welcome.
5. All Them Witches – ATW: I adore this band. In a year when I’ve spent a good few months listening to nothing but old stone records, this has been on heavy repeat along with everything else they’ve ever done. Bluesy, loose, heavy when it needs to be, it’s a long night in a good bar with best friends.
4. Conjurer – Mire: I’ve been trying to sum up my feelings about this, because the truth is that it just rages. Thoroughly, comprehensively, relentlessly. Just an absolutely brilliant modern metal album.
3. The Atlas Moth – Coma Noir: This first time I heard this, I hated it. All screechy vokills, pretentious cod-symphonic nonsense. And yet… I just couldn’t stop listening, until I had to admit to myself that I actually loved it very very much. I still don’t know why, I just know I can’t stop listening to it.
2. Dead Meadow – The Nothing They Need: This has been a good year for stone rock, with some great bands returning with career highlights, and nowhere is that more evident than here. They’ve done nothing revolutionary with their sound, still the same washed out Doors and Blue Cheer worship they’ve always done, but it’s miles ahead of their recent albums. An absolute cracker.
1. Rolo Tomassi – Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It. Every year, amongst a sea of fantastic albums, there’s always one that stands out above the rest, head and shoulders higher than the nearest competition. That one album that grabs you and won’t let you stop playing it until your children groan at the opening shimmer of the intro because they’ve heard it too many damn times. This is that album. If Rolo Tomassi were always also-rans of the noisecore scene, forever slightly in the shadow of the American giants like Dillinger, the disappearance of those bands has offered them the briefest glimpse of limelight, and chuffing Nora have they taken it. This is an album so confident, so bafflingly complex and utterly epic as to stand entirely on its own. 2018 has been a stellar year for albums, but to my mind there’s no competition for the top slot, and you have to take your hats off to Rolo Tomassi for that.
Book of the Year: Justin Cronin’s The Passage trilogy. I haven’t actually read any new releases this year, but I did read all three books of this trilogy, and absolutely adored it. Vampire plagues have never been this thought provoking.
Film of the Year: A Star is Born. I cried quite a lot at this, knowing full well how manipulated I was, not caring even remotely.
TV of the Year: Inside No 9 Live Special. Either you saw this and know, or you didn’t, and you don’t.
Podcast of the Year: The Daily. Absolutely essential for politics nerds obsessed with the slow decay of America
So, what did I miss?
The hardest part about launching a new novel — alongside the troubling piffles of writing the damn thing, redrafting it, editing it, feeling like you want to set fire to it, the terror of showing it to people, hiring an editor, hoping they like it, sorting out the cover design, compiling the ebooks, formatting the print versions, wanting to die, and writing the blurbs — is choosing what categories to put the damn thing into.
Choosing the right genres, keywords, and subsections for online retailers like Amazon can have a profound impact on how your book performs. Choose the right keyword, and your book can find its way relatively easily into a niche that has a rabid fanbase who’ll be willing to check you out. Get it wrong, and you’re consigned to the dustbin of terrible sales numbers. But whenever it comes to making these decisions, there’s an additional factor the budding publisher needs to consider — the age of their readers.
When I was a wee slip of a lad, I loved reading. I was really into Enid Blyton, the Just William books, Roald Dahl, and all the sorts of things that a growing boy or girl needs to enrich their view of the world. I loved reading, a love instilled by my parents, who have always devoured thrillers at a ridiculous pace.
But it was an english teacher at a provincial boarding school in Kent who would take what was a nascent love of stories, and turn it into something more. A charming english gent who looked like those pictures of J.R.R. Tolkien as an old man, he used to gruffly stick a different book under my nose every week, something completely off-syllabus, something he did with a handful of the kids in my class, those he’d seen with their noses buried in some childish tome.
The Day of the Triffids, To Kill a Mockingbird, Empire of the Sun, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Carrie, these books ranged from political thrillers to established classics and popcorn pulp, but they were all united by a single theme — these were not kids books.
I didn’t like all of them, but I liked a hell of a lot of them, and I don’t think it’d be a stretch to say that those battered, well-thumbed paperbacks changed my life every bit as much as the cassette of Guns ’n’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction didaround the same time.
I was probably about the same age then that my daughter is now. She, too, is a voracious reader, and I can’t begin to describe the thrill I get when I discover that she’s under the covers reading by torchlight an hour after her lights have been turned out for the night, begging to get to the end of her chapter. But there’s a huge difference between the books she reads now, and the books I was reading then. The publishing world has seen a colossal boom in the intervening years for books for her age range, books for young adults, books for new adults.
My daughter’s generation are catered to so brilliantly by a publishing world that realises they’re a perpetual money machine, a slot machine that pays out with a much higher regularity than the fickle adults. Which is not to say that the books my daughter reads are bad, far from it. I devoured the Harry Potter series like pretty much everyone else on the planet, but when I look at the Wimpy Kid books, the Series of Unfortunate Events books, and The School For Good and Evil, they’re all brilliantly written, insightful, thought provoking books.
Except, there’s a nagging thought in my mind that wonders if I should be playing the same role in my daughter’s reading education that Mr Gatherum played in my own. Should I be pressing well-worn ‘grown-up’ books into her palms? Almost certainly not, since I doubt she’d have the same receptiveness that I had. Back then I didn’t have the wealth of age-appropriate brilliance to move onto, or if I did, I didn’t have someone to show it to me. She’s perfectly happy reading books that speak directly to her, and why wouldn’t she?
Which brings me back to my own books. If I’m being brutally honest, I’m always writing for one person — me. And not the jaded, bearded hipster that’s clacking these words into the keyboard of his overpriced laptop, but the same boy who devoured Stephen King and John Wyndham and Harper Lee with a fervour bordering on religious ecstasy. Because those were the days when books were my everything, and I always feel like if I could make that little boy with the bad skin and terrible taste in clothes happy, then I’m probably doing alright. And if the things that made him happy — horror, blood, gore, politics, great characters, snappy dialogue, and a sense of a world I could only begin to imagine — are present in my own writing, well then I’m doing okay.
And yet, these are most definitely not kids books. There’s no way I’d be putting Blood on the Motorway (available to buy now, fact fans) into my daughter’s hands. But in a few years? I’d have no problem with her reading it, in the same way that I have no problem having her sit up to watch more grown up films with her Mum and I from time to time. The most exciting parts of growing up are those moments when the curtain to the world of grown ups is pulled back, giving just a glimpse at the world beyond.
So, no, I didn’t list my books as Young Adult, or even New Adult. But I’ll admit there was a moment every time when my hand wavered over the button, remembering that dorky little kid who I hope would have loved to read them.
Blood on the Motorway – An apocalyptic tale of murder and stale sandwiches, is available on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo and more besides. The sequel, Sleepwalk City, is available on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo and many more.
Welcome to Discovery Park – the chronicle of my increasingly frustrated attempt to listen to every album on Rolling Stone's Top 500 Albums of all-time list, is available now on Amazon Uk, Amazon.com, iBooks, Kobo, and many more.
This week has utterly killed me; a combination of a desperately unwanted deathly illness from the kids and a week of ridiculous stress at the job thing. Oh, and one of the kids being bloody inconsiderate in his own illness and waking me up every night. All of which has somewhat robbed me of the enthusiasm I’ve had for the last few weeks, where I have been bounding towards my inevitable career as a multimillion selling author with all the joys of Autumn. I’m just hoping that it’s all getting out of my system ahead of NaNoWriMo. I did manage to attend a writing group though, which was lovely as usual. It’s such a joy to sit around with fellow writers and chat writing, even if it’s only to be in a room with people who don’t roll their eyes when you start talking about the world you’re creating.
Writers love talking to other writers, we fire off each other. This is why I really love the infrequent catch ups with my writing group, the lengthy discussions on my online writing group and listening to writing podcasts like The Creative Penn and the Self-Publishing Podcast. It’s also why at the moment, this blog is pretty much me writing about writing. It helps me to stay focused, stay motivated, but most importantly it helps me order things in my head, work through my thoughts on how to approach things.
I’m not sure how helpful it is to anyone else (my guess is not a lot), but until I start to really try to build my ‘brand’ for readers, I guess it’s what I’m going to be doing. All the literature I’ve read says that the worst way to market yourself as an writer is to talk to other writers, but this blog has existed for over a decade now in one form or another as a way of getting my thoughts out without any grand scheme or over-arching theme, and what I’m largely thinking about right now is writing.
I’m no authority, I’m an unpublished wannabe, and if you are following this blog trying to gain knowledge on how to become a millionaire author, then sorry, I’ve got nothing for you. But perhaps what I can give an insight to is the process of trying to write, of trying to follow my dreams. You’ll be able to follow along as I creep closer and closer to the realisation in my fifties that I’ve wasted my life chasing unicorns. I jest.
There are three books on Self-Publishing that I’ve had on my Amazon wish list for a while now, cued to sit there eternally while I wait for that mythical day when I might have enough money to actually procure them. The books are Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran, How To Market a Book by Joanna Penn and Write, Publish, Repeat by Johnny B. Truant and Sean Platt with David Wright (the Self-Publishing Podcast guys). All of them are considered experts in the field of self-publishing, all of them having worked in this area for years, getting increasingly successful through sheer hard work (and a fair bit of talent, of course.) I figured that between the three books it’d cover pretty much everything I’d need to know about the market I’m getting into.
Imagine my delight, then, to find a post on Joanna’s blog this morning that the authors have teamed up to bundle all three books together, and at the ridiculous price of 79p for all three books. I may have actually done a merry little dance. So if that’s your kind of thing, head here to find out more about it.
So yesterday I had the bad stuff (update, seems having a swanky job title helps, my case has been escalated to someone whose surname is the same as that on the side of the hotel so maybe I’ll get something back after all) so now for some good stuff. Our house in a state of renewal right now. We live in a rented house that we’ve been in for a good few years now, and it’s starting to show the stresses and strains of rented accommodation that hasn’t been spruced up in a while. Last September we reported to the estate agents that nominally run the property that we needed new flooring in the bathroom and the kitchen and now, just a mere 9 months later, the work is being done. It only took endless emails back and forth, threatening legal actions and the eventual withholding of rent to get there. The upside to the saga is that because they’ve left it so long we’re actually getting a completely refitted bathroom.
And so it was with great excitement, after four years of not having a bath (relax, we had a shower, we’re not cave people) the other night I was able to rush out and buy loads of nice bath stuff and scented candles and the like. Not because I’m a great big softy at heart (although I am) but because I adore having a bath. Seriously. I love baths, to an almost manic level, and being without the means to have one for four years has driven me almost spare.
A bath my favourite way to unwind, and also my favourite place to read. Which means it’s probably good that I’m not reading via an electronic medium, I suppose. You might think this is a bit odd, but there’s a reason for it.
I used to go to one of those schools that’s so posh they don’t let you go home very often. Long and short of that story is that I had a pretty miserable time for a good few years. One of my favourite ways to escape this misery was to go into the bathrooms, which had big old cast iron tubs in cubicles, on a Sunday after my weekly indoctrination session and get into a bath with a book.
I wouldn’t leave until I absolutely had to, which usually meant four or five refills of the bath and half a book later. Nobody else knew that I used to do this, and because on a Sunday everyone else was out being sociable or getting the hell out of the school I pretty much had the place to myself.
Occasionally some of the sporty types would surge into the huge bathrooms celebrating their victory or mourning their loss, but after ten or fifteen minutes of noise I’d have the place to myself again.
This admittedly odd ritual is also the same reason I love Douglas Adams. I remember specifically reading the entire Hitchhiker saga over a couple of weekends. I remember also getting really into the Allan Dean Foster adaptations of the Alien movies. Good times, when a book was the surest way to escape the drudgery and awfulness of the rest of my existence. Looking back, it’s probably around this time that I started wanting to be a writer, back there in the baths having my mind expanded and world transported.
Strange, the things we carry with us. There is something so utterly calming about a good bath, and now I have one. Good times.
Note: This was written before I heard about Rik Mayall. Needless to say it's horrible that one of my childhood heroes has gone. Rubbish. Anyway... It’s been all go with me recently. I’m a sucker for a self improvement project, even if I’ve rarely seen them through to the end. Mostly I blog about wanting to do something and then that’s as far as it goes, as anyone who remembers my ‘Year of Health’ debacle can attest. Before I get to the good stuff, however, I suffered something of a minor bereavement this week. I was travelling with work, and it involved an overnight stay in a hotel chain that one tends to associate with its heiress’ indiscretions. Naturally, with a total of 8 hours travel and an overnight stay I had my Kindle with me. Unfortunately, when I got home I no longer had it. I left it in the room, and the hotel are now disavowing all knowledge, despite the fact that I totally left it in my bed.
So now I am Kindle-less. I loved my Kindle. As an avid technophile on a limited budget, I was ecstatic when I won it in a work competition nearly a year and a half ago. I went from paper books to screens with nary a backward glance, and my book consumption rate skyrocketed, despite the ever present distraction of the entire internet. I even overlooked the fact that the Kindle OS is cumbersome and refuses to stock more than a handful of decent apps.
I phoned Amazon and they were very good about it, even refunding me the money for the triple pack of Jon Ronson books I had queued up for when I finally trudged through Pride & Prejudice. But now I am a sad man.
In order to cheer myself up I headed straight for the nearest supermarket (well, I was going there anyway to buy wine to ease the pain) and picked up a book at random, a schlocky thriller by a first time author that described itself as ‘Bourne meets Homeland meets The Wire’ which I am already enjoying immensely. It’s heavy though, and I can’t seem to access Tumblr through it.
I wont be getting a Kindle next time, if I can avoid it, for the reasons listed above. I’d like more of an actual tablet next time. But given that I’m not likely to find myself able to get one until a bearded fat man in a red suit brings me one, looks like it’s back to the paper age I go.