End of Year Book Survey 2015

After writer Leah Smith’s post on the End of Year Book Survey via Perpetual Page Turner, I had to have a wild stab at it myself. A few days into January isn’t too late, right?

2015 Reading Stats

Number Of Books You Read: 32. Not my best, but 2015 was a very busy year.
Number of Re-Reads: 1. Jane Austen’s Persuasion.
Genre You Read The Most From: Classics/Literary

Best in Books

1. Best Book You Read In 2015?
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind. Rich language, dark humour and a new sense awoken. You all HAVE to read it.

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?
Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare. I have friends who adore Clare, but I cannot fall into her books. Perhaps I began in the wrong place. Any Cassandra Clare fans, please convert me, tell me where to start.

3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read?
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. I went into this story with many expectations that were soon forgotten. Rowell’s story is a sensitive, sweet and slightly nerdy take on beginning college for the first time. And there’s a little Simon Snow fan-fiction on the sidelines that is rather adorable.

The Stylist by Rosie Nixon4. Book You “Pushed” The Most People To Read (And They Did)?
The Stylist by Rosie Nixon. Now, this isn’t out until 2016, but I got my hands on a proof copy from the charming crew at Mira Ink. I pushed this book because I know it will go down well with a few friends who adore Sex in the City. Nixon’s book is funny, quirky and will leave you laughing. A review will be coming soon…

5. Best series you started in 2015? Best Sequel of 2015? Best Series Ender of 2015?
Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead was the best series I started (though I’m not sure I’ll continue). Vampires have been done to death, but the film was on Netflix and I gave it a go. It was entertaining enough (wine helped) and I soon checked the book out from the local library. A refreshing take in the YA genre and great themes on mental health and inner strength.

The best sequel was hands-down The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris. Not a new book, but new to me. Having been so taken by the artistry in Bryan Fuller’s series, I had to delve into the series. This was spectacular.

The Republic of Thieves by Scott LynchAnd an honourable mention to The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch. Numerous friends forced The Lies of Locke Lamora on me and I fell in love with Lynch’s dirty humour and fantastical world. There were a few iffy moments in The Republic of Thieves, the third instalment in the series, but it left me satisfied.

6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2015?
Melinda Salisbury. Not only is her story The Sin Eater’s Daughter utterly compelling, with outstanding world-building, but the author seems like such a delight as well. I may be biased, as I read she’s a Slytherin and us snakes have to stick together.

7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?
Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris. This was another proof from Mira Ink and it was creepy. I don’t like books with animal cruelty. Although I see why the author needed this device and it made the villain’s just desserts all the sweeter, it was upsetting.

The Selection Keira Cass8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?
The Selection by Keira Cass. Some books aren’t challenging. They’re popcorn for the mind and The Selection was pure popcorn. It was fun, fast and page-turning. I want a film and I want it now, with pretty dresses and a lot of hair-pulling.

9. Book You Read In 2015 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?
I don’t particularly like re-reads, unless it’s an old favourite. I could give Cassandra Clare another go, if I’m really feeling the need to punish myself (or rather, find why everyone loves her so much).

Perfume Patrick Suskind10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2015?
If only I could use a cover of a book I haven’t read yet but will soon, argh! I’ll go for Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind. Look at the swirls!

11. Most memorable character of 2015?
Simon Snow. Okay, I might be cheating here. Although he did not really feature in Rowell’s Fangirl, aside from in snippets of fan-fiction, his story (almost a parody of Harry Potter) was engaging and fun. I’m looking forward to reading Carry On, because a few people I know have loved it.

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2015?
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. Recommended to me by my flatmate, it was beautiful, even if it did feel flat at times. The characters were hard to reach, as though they were shrouded by the exotic landscape that they lived within.

13. Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2015?
The Hours by Michael Cunningham. Because it’s won all these awards and has a film and people love it and I hated it. When a chair seemingly had a mental breakdown (everyone has them in this story, they’re very popular) I had to give up.

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2015 to finally read?
Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie. What a twisted, dark and horrific story. Perhaps I missed the charming, delightful elements to it – it was deliciously warped.

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2015?

“I collect church collapses, recreationally. Did you see the recent one in Sicily? Marvelous! The facade fell on sixty-five grandmothers at a special mass. Was that evil? If so, who did it? If he’s up there, he just loves it, Officer Starling. Typhoid and swans – it all comes from the same place.” ― Thomas Harris, The Silence of the Lambs

Cross Stitch by Diana Gabaldon16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2015?
Shortest was King Me by Roger Reeves (poetry). Longest was Cross Stitch by Diana Gabaldon, better-known as Outlander. Both – though very different – left me unfulfilled. And I’m still not sure how I got through 800+ pages of Gabaldon (all the sex prolly helped).

17. Book That Shocked You The Most. (Because of a plot twist, character death, left you hanging with your mouth wide open, etc.)
The Republic of Thieves. I flailed and had no one to flail to. Locke, what are you – who are you?!

18. OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!) (OTP = one true pairing if you aren’t familiar)
Anne Elliot/Frederick Wentworth from Austen’s Persuasion. I adored the book because it is set mostly in Bath and areas I am fond of, so it was a little like stepping home when I flipped a new page. Although, I can’t forget Baz/Simon from Rowell’s Fangirl… 

19. Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year
Goldfinger and James Bond from Ian Flemming’s Goldfinger. A greedy cheat and a secret agent rebounded splendidly off one another, play golf (for ages) and try to get the upper hand. Their dynamic really made the book, along with Flemming’s engaging writing.

20. Favorite Book You Read in 2015 From An Author You’ve Read Previously
Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones. It wasn’t the best, it lacked a good few somethings – I don’t quite know what. But the world built, the characters, the flawless writing. What talent – talent that is sorely missed.

Geek Girl by Holly Smale21. Best Book You Read In 2015 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else/Peer Pressure:
Geek Girl by Holly Smale. Cute, fun and lol-worthy.

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2015?
Yassen Gregorovich from Anthony Horowitz’s Russian Roulette. Because he oozes cool, even if I wasn’t too keen on how his story unravelled. This might be a super-weird crush, don’t judge.

23. Best 2015 debut you read?
Rosie Nixon’s The Stylist.

24. Best Worldbuilding/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?
Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie.

Monster CJ Skuse25. Book That Put A Smile On Your Face/Was The Most FUN To Read?
Monster by CJ Skuse. It put a smile on my face for the wrong reason, because the story demanded such bravery from the characters that I couldn’t help but cheer them on and feel what they felt.

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2015?
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace-Thackery. It almost made me cry in frustration. What utter twaddle.

27. Hidden Gem Of The Year?
House of Shadows by Nicola Cornick

28. Book That Crushed Your Soul?
Diana Wynne Jones’ Enchanted Glass, because it was her last and there will never be more.

29. Most Unique Book You Read In 2015?
The Doll (and other short stories) by Daphne du Maurier. Trust du Maurier to be effortlessly creepy.

30. Book That Made You The Most Mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?
The Hours by Michael Cunningham. I really, really didn’t like it.

Looking Ahead

1. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2015 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2016? Hannibal by Thomas Harris
2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2016 (non-debut)? I’m cheating and going for a publisher: Mira Ink. I’ve been so impressed by the books they’re publishing lately and I’m really looking forward to what else they’ll produce.
3. 2016 Debut You Are Most Anticipating? Again, cheating, I’ve already read Nixon’s The Stylist but I’m excited to see how others will find it.
4. Series Ending/A Sequel You Are Most Anticipating in 2016?
Will Game of Thrones be finished yet?! I won’t read it, but I want to know the end via the television show (which, for me, does it better).
5. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging Life In 2016? I’d like to smash my reading target, but while writing and editing myself, it’s a hard task to fit it all in. I’d like to read more books I enjoy, instead of long, dull classics (Makepeace Thackery, I’m looking at you) that were a battle.
6. A 2016 Release You’ve Already Read & Recommend To Everyone:
B.A. Paris Behind Closed Doors. It’ll make you think about that whole ‘Red Room of Pain’ scenario and a certain popular series a lot differently.

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Inkitt has cracked the algorithm for writing success

Lauren Harsma, co-founder, Inkitt, posing with my pet snail, Igor
Lauren Harsma, co-founder, Inkitt, posing with my pet snail, Igor

After cutting her teeth at NaNoWriMo, Lauren Harsma has become a co-founder of Inkitt, a new breed of writing platform that dusts off the old format and drags it – kicking and screaming if their new horror competition is to be believed – into the present. Inkitt’s unique approach is the next step in publishing, giving new writers a chance to shine in a competitive market.

Being a very patient friend, Lauren submitted to my interrogation after I promised to buy her cheap beer and cheaper men. She answered my questions in Westberlin in Kreuzberg, near to her flat and Inkitt’s headquarters. “Good cafes close to my flat are important to me, because I like being able to brag about how close to my flat they are,” said Lauren, who had not showered in three days (due to her flat’s heater problem) and thought to disguise it with a hat. She assured me that everyone else around her was wearing a hat, no doubt for the same reason. Berlin, we can all assume, is a very smelly place.

What book are you currently reading?
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. I always pack obnoxiously large books in my carry-on luggage, because it’s worth the strain of shlepping them around to feel like I’ve gotten away with something. Incidentally, this book has turned out to be totally worth the spinal torment: it’s got your quintessentially English narrator, sardonic and sagacious and a little bit brutal.

What’s the best part about being in Berlin?
Besides getting to tell people I’m a jelly doughnut, the walk to work in the morning is nice. When there’s a frost, a layer of ice on the Spree corrals the swans into circles of water where they’ve warmed it away. When I take the train, I see more people reading than staring at their phones, which I find so charming. I think I’ve fallen in love with about a dozen people on train platforms and in train carriages.

What ‘foreign’ foods have you eaten so far?
When I told my co-founders Ali and Martin that I’d been eating cold cheese sandwiches for dinner every night, they immediately took me for the best falafel I’ve had in my life. (I tend not to splurge on food when cooking for myself, so it’s all on them to feed me grown-up food and not the toddler things I tend towards when left to my own devices.) I want to get more into quark and weißwurst, which should be the name of a skeezy dance club, but is really just tartish yogurt and white sausage. Beer is cheap enough to coddle bad habits – so far, Tegernsee Spezial and Augustiner are my favorites.

What is your role at Inkitt and what will you be doing?
I’m Head of Authors Community, which currently entails getting writers and readers on board the site, spearheading contests, sending hundreds of emails, and staring helplessly at my elderly laptop as it whinges and creaks trying to run GoogleDocs. Eventually I will have a gold-plated robot with the voice of Pierce Brosnan to take care of that last part so I can concentrate on churning out ideas, shmoozing with brilliant people, and watering the office plants, Judy Blume and Beatrix Potter.

What is Inkitt’s aim and how do your own creative writing passions feed into it?
Writers are very familiar with closed doors. From the start I was intrigued by Inkitt because it offers writers another option for getting their writing out into the world: manholes and skylights and portals through the backs of wardrobes. Inkitt wants to help them find a different path by which they can reach the same goals. I want to get the stories that have been pinned under rocks or caught in coffee cans out into the light and the air; get them blinking and flapping their wings. There are so many stories out there that deserve exposure and can’t get it by going the traditional route.

What are you most excited about in the coming months?
Being able to raise an idea from something squalling and squirming to a bright, self-aware thing. At Inkitt, I love that I can create something in my head and then watch it broil up like a storm cloud, all downpour and lightning. It’s great having such an open-minded, savvy team to bat ideas around with, and I know we’re creating something extraordinary here every day.

How do both original-fiction and fan-fiction writers use Inkitt to find success?
Writers can post their working chapters and get feedback from readers. (I like to think of them as modern Dickenses and Doyles, publishing pieces serially and witnessing readers’ reactions as the story grows.) They can use this feedback as a story compass to guide their plot in a direction their readers would like to see it go, which is, to me, a really intriguing method of storytelling. With the added element of as-you-go editing, there’s so much potential for creating an entirely new way of writing a book.

What makes Inkitt different to other writing platforms?
Inkitt uses algorithms to track the success of stories, meaning we can predict which ones could potentially be bestsellers based on our users’ reading habits. From there we’ll offer publishing contracts to top writers, thereby helping them avoid the coal-walk that is publishing traditionally, and the teeming ocean of self-publishing.

I hear Inkitt is getting ‘dark’ for its first competition?
Basically Ali (Inkitt’s CEO) decided that creating a start-up wasn’t scary enough and that we needed to read a thousand terrifying stories too (in retrospect this was probably a ploy to keep us from sleeping at night, thereby freeing up more time for work). I was tasked with coming up with the theme, which was like being a kid and getting to name your family’s new puppy. I decided on “You are in the darkest place in the world” because it’s broad enough to invite many different interpretations and variations, but mysterious enough that it was still a temptation and a challenge.

The contest opens February 2nd and closes February 28th. We’re accepting everything fiction, from flash to 10,000 words, and winners will be determined first by upvotes, and then by the Inkitt staff from the top 10% of entries. Prizes include Amazon gift cards, custom Inkitt mugs and notebooks, and a cover design by Inkitt’s designer, Linda Gavin. More details can be found here!

Walking with smugglers, ghosts and Viking warlords

Whenever I find it hard to write, I walk. I fix whatever problem I’m facing while I’m wading through mud or battling with stiles, in wellingtons or walking books, come rain or shine. In Japan, forest bathing (Shinrin-yoku) is a visit to a wooded area, intended to relax and rejuvenate. Research has shown that fresh air is good for you and has numerous benefits, including boosting the immune system and increasing happiness. For a writer, the outdoors is also an invaluable source of inspiration. Below are four walks, ones that have helped me fill my mind with stories or clear it altogether. There is no better escape than rambling through the wilderness, surrounded by myths, legends and forgotten history.

Killigerran Head

A walk along the coastal paths at Killigerran Head.
A walk along the coastal paths at Killigerran Head.

There’s a footpath that shifts from sand to hard, compacted soil, coiling around the rugged, Cornish coastline of Killigerran Head, on the Roseland Peninsula. It’s a place for smugglers and pirates, for crooks and a Cornish welcome. In the 1770s, when Britain was on the edge of bankruptcy due to war and taxes were high, smuggling took root. Goods smuggled into Cornwall included tea, brandy, gin, rum and tobacco. The path leads round to Fraggle Rock Lighthouse, revealing a bay glancing over to St Mawes. The route passes an old war bunker established in the Napoleonic era and built upon during WWII. Nearby is where a customs officer, realising that Porthscatho smugglers were watching the hills over the harbour (to ensure a quick get-away if a revenue boat approached) mounted a surprise attack. St Mawes itself was where Robert Long, a 17th century smuggler, was executed and his body hung in chains along the roadside, to deter any others who would follow in his footsteps. For a real taste of the region, stop at a nearby pub for a pint of Cornish Knocker, a beautiful golden-ale with fruity hops and a malty undertone.

Glastonbury Tor

Climb to the top of Glastonbury Tor and you’ll be flying. The wind pulls at hair and worms into sleeves, as though it would drag a hiker off over the views of the Somerset Levels that stretch on for miles. Legends of King Arthur and the Isle of Avalon (Ynys yr Afalon) surround this breathtaking location. There is even talk that the sacred spot is where the Holy Grail was hidden. You can almost feel its power underneath your boots with each step. A perfect walk for a writer to let their imagination get the better of them. Though your legs may ache when you reach the summit, there is no better reward than the sight that greets you.

Castle Combe

The woods at Castle Combe, flooded with wild garlic in the spring.
The woods at Castle Combe, flooded with wild garlic in the spring.

A chocolate-box Cotswold village, Castle Combe has been used as a backdrop for many films, including War Horse and Stardust. Above the butterscotch-cottages is a woods that cradles the valley. Wild garlic, bluebells, violets and tall, distinguished trees line the paths – a peaceful contrast to the battle that once raged upon those hills. Ghostly sounds – metal clanging against metal, shouts and guttural cries in an old language – have been heard by walkers. In 877, the mighty Viking Guthram marched his army against King Alfred of Wessex during a Christmas feast and in retaliation, a later ambush took place – legend has it, upon the hills at Castle Combe.

Corfe Castle

A rugged ruin on a hilltop surrounded by yellow gorse and placid sheep, the National Trust site was once the setting for a wretched betrayal. In the 1640s, a civil war gripped England. Corfe Castle was in the hands of the Royalist Bankes family who found themselves in a precarious position when Dorset fell under control of Parliament. In 1643, Lady Mary Bankes and a garrison of 80 soldiers saw off a six-week siege and her reputation was firmly set as a courageous, brave woman. However, a later feud led to enemy troops, disguised as reinforcements, to take Corfe Castle from within. All her efforts had failed.

Do visit the Model Village Courtyard Cafe, as they have the best apple cake you will ever taste. I still have daydreams about sitting under a garden umbrella, with rain pattering down, a sleepy dog across my feet, while I tucked into a sweet cake slice the size of a doorstop.

If you have a favourite walk, historical location or setting that inspires you, share it below: I am always after new places to explore. For more photographs and walks, visit my Instagram.