A Seasonal Message and a Year in Books…

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and that you have an excellent 2011 ahead of you.  Happy New Year!

I will resume the Books for Christmas series shortly.  Sadly, due to a nasty infection I was diverted in December and will carry on posting the collected Books for Christmas series but under a new tag of ‘2011 starts with recommendation heaven’.

You may know me by now.  I try to be a little different.  No year end top tens from me this year; just a look back on 2010’s year in books.  I hope you enjoy it.  It goes some way to explaining why there were fewer posts on this blog during the past year.

January saw the launch of the TV Book Club in the UK.  Bookworms across the country were crying out for this: a book show on terrestrial TV.  Hopes were high as it involved Amanda Ross who had set up the Richard & Judy Book Club.  But readers don’t go that deeply into backroom organisation and don’t really care.  ‘Richard & Judy’ was the brand and it was their word, their recommendations that mattered.  Criticism started early, as soon as the panel was announced.  Hopes were dashed, but bookworms retained patience and gave it time.  Low notes: celebrity central for bragging up a biography; most of the panel and guests; the wrong location, location, location for Jo Brand’s brand of humour.  High notes: Joan Bakewell as a guest; Ian McMillan on Ted Hughes, making poetry accessible; the books selected.  The series returns to our screens in January 2011.


Towards the end of February, the then Chair of the Crime Writers’ Association asked me if I’d like to join the judging panel for the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger.  Thus March brought a sudden influx of novels and even though I had concentrated on debuts on this blog, I was sad to discover I had read only four of the submissions.  Over the next few weeks, there was a lot to read and I drew up a spreadsheet to keep track.  Then came the dilemmas too.  With an informal book-blogging code in operation which deemed it ethical to acknowledge the source of books if not bought or borrowed from the library, how on earth could I mention these on the blog?  When would be the best time?  Hence a more blog-lite approach descended on my reading as I didn’t want to give any games away.

Many congratulations to Headline publishers who organised an absolutely superb ‘Headline Meets Online’ meeting in March.  This was the first formal recognition of online ‘word of mouth’ book recommendations in the UK from bloggers and similar, and firmly rooted the relationship development of same. What grew organically and independently was well-represented by the various genres and my eyes were opened.  The world is changing and this was the start of taking the train onto the line as opposed to continuing to observe activity on the line.

Lavapro April brought chaos to coincide with the London Book Fair.  Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted and released enough ash to ground planes across the globe.  The country focus in 2010 was South Africa and many couldn’t make it.  Twitter came into its own with the exchange of information between users, airlines and airports updating travellers, and the LBF having a twitterwall for those not there.  Intrepid Dutch publishers took to the trains, determined to make it to London, with one group hiring a car and taking the night ferry.  Iceland had already inflicted enough economic damage on itself and the globe before Mother Nature issued more.  But a phoenix does rise from the ashes and this time it was Iceland’s entrepreneurs who raised the bar.  Yes, some of that ash was potted for sale online.

May saw the Apple iPad launched in the UK at the end of the month.  This millennium’s ‘ducks to water’ quickly proved to be ‘cats to iPad screens’ if you believe the posts up on YouTube.

June brought us The Book Trade Charity Action Week and the Crime Writers’ Association’s Crime Fiction Week to promote crime fiction across the UK.  Thanks to the generosity of the Bodleian Library, I combined the two and auctioned P D James’s Talking about Detective Fiction to raise money for the BTC’s Action Week.  For the CWA’s Crime Fiction Week I also agreed to judge a short story competition for an Aberdeenshire writers’ group.  I had asked the wonderful Roger (R. N.) Morris to join me in doing so and we couldn’t agree on the winner, both of us having very strong number ones, so the impressive joint winners were announced that week.

June was also the time for the meeting of the judges of the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger to debate and perform the deliberations.  All of us had been stunned by the winner we decided upon.

HarroFeet2 July delivered my annual visit to Harrogate for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival.  It was a short visit and I missed touching base with many of you; for which I am so sorry.  But I did get to be on yet another non-winning (mainly Dutch) quiz team on Saturday night and to meet more Dutch publishers in person.  Well, on one occasion it was our feet that made acquaintance, truth be told…  And, earning even more of my respect at a rate faster than the take-up of a BOGOF in a supermarket, I discovered fellow John Lawton readers in the Netherlands.  Hats off to the organisers of this festival, it gets better every year.

August was a quiet time for many due to holidays, but a busy time for me for other reasons not related to books.

September saw the re-launch of the R&J Book Club, but this felt more of an online promo for WHS book division sales than a proper book club.  Still, the ‘brand’ reached out to bring great sales for their continued and excellently selected books in 2010.

002 October was the month of the ITV Crime Thriller Awards in which the CWA’s John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger was announced.  I looked forward to it and dreaded it in almost equal measure.  I am the biggest one for falling into eye-watering blubberingness when I watch award ceremonies on the box.  I had planned waterproof mascara for months; but never got around to buying it.  This occasion felt like I had my own children in the spotlight.  The New Blood announcement was set to be the first of the writing awards.  Oddly, I was quickly bored and not really engaged in proceedings at all; it was all rather smooth and fast, with prompted clapping.  That’s TV recording for you.  But, Ryan David Jahn was a very worthy winner and I was so proud to see him accept his award (as watched on TV later due to a severely restricted view on the night).  It was good to meet Ryan and two of the other finalists while there.

024 November saw my third year at the CWA’s Ellis Peters Historical Crime Dagger Award, an intimate event I rather enjoy.  Previously, it was held in Fitzroy Square in London – home to this year’s The Apprentice candidates, in another house, if I recognised the square correctly – but in 2010, we went to Little, Brown’s offices.  And historic they are too, in a different way; embedded in that building of steel and glass is a big piece of history, rising in the atrium.  If you ever get the chance to visit the building (Unilever House in the City, very close to Blackfriars), don’t hesitate.  I thought the EP might go to a newbie this year and it did: Rory Clements bagged the prize for Revenger, his follow up to Martyr which was shortlisted for the John Creasey (New Blood).  C J Sansom’s latest, Heartstone came a very close second.  It was great to meet old friends and colleagues as well as new.  But that’s the nature of history, yes?  Build on and learn from the old while developing the new. 

Oh, what can I say of December in this book world?  Well Christmas sales were the big focus and reports were mixed.  Many think Waterstone’s is under threat in the UK as we head into 2011.  E-readers and e-books have done well, confirming a changing landscape for the material format of reading in this decade and beyond.  I have read that the Kindle was the most bought ‘gadget’.  Personally, I end the year wishing I could have read more of what I’d have liked to have read, in the time that I had available, and I am seeing in the new year with a full force-directed effort on reading for the 2010-2011 CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger.  I wish I had shared more of the books I read with you, but time constraints on top of the others made this almost impossible.

TheOneRonnie2 I leave you on this final note for December.  TV was actually quite decent this year and of all the comedy shows, I enjoyed The One Ronnie the best.  Within that there was a sketch based on Parkinson’s chat show that took the mickey out of celebrity biographies and their subjects’ urgency to promote them.  I am sure that I am not alone in finding this one struck a chord.

Have a great new year and all the very best for 2011!  Keep reading…

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