Dear reader, I hope your Christmas has been a happy, or at least restful one. Like so many others, my household has had a visit from the Covid fairy (the worst one), but we’re making the best of it even if the festive antigen tests are outnumbering the selection boxes.
I almost didn’t bother doing my yearly recap because, really, what does it matter? But then I felt a burst of positivity this afternoon and decided to properly take leave of the year. If no one else reads it beside me, that’s fine, but such recaps help me to see what progress, if any, I’m making.
Works in progress
Looking back at my recap of 2020, I see that it was the year of finishing my first book. And that this would be the year of sending it out into the world. Well, I have been tentatively doing that and so far the verdict has largely been, “I love it, but I don’t love it enough…” In other words, the book has come close to being accepted by a few agents, but I’m still searching for the right person to take it on. There has been one recent nice development with it, but I can’t give any specifics until the New Year. I’ll just have to use that infuriating “watch this space” phrase.
So besides navigating the agent querying experience (and oh yes, I have written a list of things I’ve learned!), 2021 has been the year of working on book two. To aid that, I applied for and was awarded an Agility Award from the Arts Council. The application process for this is somewhat easier than the fiendishly difficult Literary Bursary, and the acceptance rate is higher (50% of the applicants were successful in the round I applied for).
The award allowed me to do a Curtis Brown Creative three-month novel course, which really helped me to outline my book and gave me a lot of encouraging feedback on my idea. I would like to say I forged on and completed a first draft, but that would be a lie. I’m blaming the pandemic (it has some uses!), but I stalled quite badly in the second half of the year. Nonetheless, I am finishing the year with about 45,000 words (from 18,000 words pre-course) and a pretty good idea of how the story unfolds. I hope to start the New Year champing at the bit to return to it. But let’s face it, we’re all a bit burnt out at the moment, aren’t we?
I’ve had three stories accepted for publication this year. The first was ‘Planting Out’, which appeared in Everyday Kindness, a UK anthology edited by crime writer LJ Ross, with all proceeds going to Shelter UK. That has been a huge success, and plans are afoot to release an audiobook in February 2022.
Then there was ‘A Guide to Keeping Birds’, which came joint second in the Bournemouth Writing Prize run by Bournemouth University. The prizewinners’ anthology The Waves of Change was published in October. Alan Murrin’s moving winning story, ‘The Wake’, was also shortlisted for the An Post Short Story of the Year award.
And just a few weeks ago, my story ‘A Simple Loss of Balance’ was published in Cork Words 2, an anthology of work showcasing fifty Cork authors, and edited by Patricia Looney of Cork City Libraries. I was pinching myself to be published alongside many wonderful local writers, and there are plans for several events to celebrate the anthology in the New Year.
Because I’ve been working on the novel, I didn’t have time for many competitions in 2021. I entered four, didn’t place in two, came joint second in the Bournemouth Writing Prize and was longlisted in another that I can’t be specific about yet because the judging is still ongoing. So not a bad result, percentage-wise!
I only managed to do one Q&A on the blog, but it was a good ‘un – with my extremely talented friend Laura McKenna. Her historical debut novel Words to Shape My Name recounts the remarkable true story of freed slave Tony Small and his relationship with Irish revolutionary Lord Edward Fitzgerald. It is told with impeccable attention to detail and drew admiration from writers such as Hilary Mantel (who said, “This book is an act of salvage, performed with great skill: cleanly written, sharp-eyed, undeceived”), and it was deservedly shortlisted for the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award 2021.
Like many people, I have a genuine fear of public speaking. And the only thing scarier than reading in public is answering, or indeed asking questions, so I surprised myself this year by agreeing to my very first interviewing gig. It was for Fiction at the Friary, the monthly free writing salon that takes place here in Cork, and which moved to an online format during the lockdowns. When they were finally able to return to The Friary pub, organisers Danielle McLaughlin and Madeleine D’Arcy decided to keep the online version as well, in order to reach a wider audience. In October, I found myself stepping in as a guest co-host to interview Madeleine about her fantastic second short story collection Liberty Terrace. The prerecorded version of our interview is below, and Madeleine is just a delight to listen to:
Favourite books and distractions
I’ve had such a bad reading year, abandoning most of what I started. I can’t blame the books, it’s been more my concentration levels. But of the ones that managed to be the right thing at the right time, my favourite reads this year shared common traits in being charming and uplifting. They were Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce (I just love her work), The One Hundred Years of Lenni & Margot by debut author Marianne Cronin (about a teenager dying of cancer and yet it’s the most joyous read) and The Hidden Palace by Helene Wecker. The latter is the long-awaited sequel to The Golem and the Djinni (terrible title, beautiful book about immigrants and being different), and it was well worth the wait.
In fact, looking back, many of the great books I’ve read and stuck with this year have either been recently published or yet-to-be-published manuscripts by friends, and I’m so proud of them all. I feel very fortunate to be surrounded by such talent, they’re truly inspiring and there is some amazing work about to be unleashed on the world fairly shortly.
It has to be said, I’ve mostly been entertained (ie kept sane) by great TV this year, watching everything from gripping, immersive series such as Squid Game and Succession, to touching comedies like Ted Lasso and life-affirming reality shows such as Strictly Come Dancing, Great British Pottery Throwdown and Bake Off.
It hasn’t been an easy year for anyone, and for some it’s been a terrible time of sickness, stress and/or loss. But I hope that brighter things lie ahead for you. Heartfelt thanks to everyone who has dropped by this blog and interacted in any way over the year – it’s lovely to hear from you and to know people are actually taking the time to read it. Happy New Year and happy writing in 2022, Anne xx
PS. Short story competition list on its way, just as soon as I have concluded some important Christmas business: