Packing for long-haul flights has become quite a regular task for me. That’s what happens when you live in Australia and love so many things in the northern hemisphere! Real winter! Fjords! Paris! The British Museum! The Acropolis! … I won’t go on.
Here I’d like to share my list of 10 must-haves for long journeys, with links to my particular favourites. Plane, train, ship – these accessories will make the travel easier!
Books. I really cannot go anywhere without a book. Without a few books. For me, some will be on devices, others will be in hard copy. It’s hard to go past Odyssey Books for something with adventure, intelligence and style!
Puzzle/colouring in book. Ditto – I get twitchy if I’m out of range of my pencils and pens. I’m not addicted to sudoku or anything in particular, but I love a good crossword and an interesting picture to colour in.
Noise-cancelling headphones. Expensive, I know, but these are wonderful. They completely cut out the horrid white noise of the plane and allow you to focus on the movie or music of your choice. Travel is very different since I found these!
Flat shoes. I usually take an extra pair of shoes in my hand luggage. Then, depending on which way I’m travelling (keeping in mind that when I’m swapping between hemispheres, I’m also swapping seasons). So I might get on wearing boots and change into flats for the trip, or wear flats for the trip and change into boots on arrival.
Scarf/shawl. See #6. I’m often changing seasons in one flight, and then of course there’s the complete mystery of air-conditioning. Too hot, too cold? Your scarf/shawl will do the trick.
You will have noticed that this is not your regular ‘Last Word of the Week’ fix. As December draws to a close and everyone gets busy with end-of-year tasks and (for the lucky ones) holiday preparations, we’re putting LWOTW away for this year. In its place, I thought I’d give you a quick overview of my ten top reads of 2018. My aim was to read 60 books this year, but I am currently at 75 and hope to get a couple more in before 2019. Books are addictive, yes?
Not all of these books were published this year, but with TBR lists growing faster than I can read, it’s not always easy to keep up.
1. Station Eleven, Emily St John Mandel
My best read of the year. First published in 2014, this book was recommended to me by word of mouth from a trusted friend. I found it to be: Wonderful. Uplifting. Thoughtful. Perceptive. Clever. Kind. Worrying. Sad.
It’s a perfectly comprehensible tale of the advent of the apocalyptic virus and the world inherited by the survivors. There is a large cast of characters, and at times it seems they have no connection, but their lives do intersect – as all of ours do, in truth. The hope and desolation of this novel will stay with me for a long time.
I’m so glad I read it.
2. Record of a Spaceborn Few, Becky Chambers
This is an amazing book, and I loved every minute of it. It’s my first Becky Chambers and now I have to read more. It’s rare and wonderful when fantastic books — and I mean fantastic in the sense of books that aspire to a different realism — speak to the reader in her own life. This book does.
Here are my three top quotes:
“Yet it was a quiet grief, an everyday grief, a heaviness and a lightness all at once.”
“That’s how we’ll survive, even if not all of us do.”
“Our species doesn’t operate by reality. It operates by stories.”
I loved the cast of diverse characters and the plot threads that connected them all. I loved the worlds and the perspectives, and the clarity of this story. I was a little impatient with teenager Kip, but hey, that’s what teenagers are for! The alien viewpoints were also fascinating.
One of the best reads of 2018, for sure.
3. La Belle Sauvage, Philip Pullman
I am glad that I waited a bit to read this wonderful book, because now (I hope) I will manage the wait for the next of the trilogy. I confess guiltily that it’s my first Philip Pullman (he’s been on my TBR list for a long time) and I’m hooked. I could tell by the first page that this was exquisite, assured writing backed by a huge, compassionate, intelligent imagination.
The characterisation is masterly and Pullman doesn’t offer any short cuts or quick fixes to the dire circumstances of living in the time of a totalitarian government. I am in love with the daemons too. More please! Oxford forever.
4. From the Wreck, Jane Rawson
I really loved this extraordinary book. The dovetailing of historical family story plus alien lifeform may not be for everyone, but it really is worth trying. Some of the sentences will stay with you for a long time, even if you’re not entranced by the combination of alien and history. Personally, I LOVED it.
I don’t do spoilers if I can help it, so I won’t go into detail. I just want to say that this book makes the reader ask all the important questions. As in, what is life all about? What is our place in the universe? Are we the cosmic specks we sometimes feel? What about love and care for others? How do we take care of ourselves and our loved ones in the face of the vast majesty of life?
5. Winter, Ali Smith
I fell in love with this book, after being a little puzzled at the start. Don’t get too caught up in the whys and wherefores in the beginning. A floating head? Why not? All will become clear. I soon got into the swing of things and enjoyed every nuance. Essential reading for the Christmas holidays – thoughtful and compassionate, interesting and tender.
6. Den of Wolves, Juliet Marillier
I very much enjoyed this third book in the Blackthorn and Grim trilogy – all of which I have now read. However it is so neatly written that it would stand alone. Very good consistency of characterisation, and the ending wasn’t squibbed. Loved it!
I pick up every Marillier book I see and have had some glorious times reading her wonderful, rich, insightful prose. This is the type of fantasy that resonates across the ages.
7. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman
I absolutely loved this book from the very first line. Neil Gaiman’s writing is exquisite. Everything he writes about magical events seems so right that it sinks in. Of course the world is as he says it is.
You will love the Hempstocks and you will also be able to use ‘Ursula Monckton’ as an epithet for any annoying person you know!
8. The Orchard Underground, Mat Larkin
First up: I knew this guy in a former life, so I had some trepidation reading Mat Larkin’s debut middle grade novel. What if I didn’t like it? What could I say? I planned some soothing platitudes in advance, crossed my fingers and eyes, and started to read…
Well, all my planning was a waste of time. The Underground Orchard is seriously good. It’s smart, funny, accessible, well-structured and a wonderful read. I’m SO sorry that I didn’t get to read books like this when I was in middle school. Sure, I made a heroine out of Mary Grant Bruce’s Norah of Billabong (who could ride horses, muster cattle, AND cook!), but where was Attica Stone, with her confidence, succinct way with wirds, love of strong black coffee, and refusal to give up?
You’ll love Pri Kohli and his quirky way of talking, and his world-view completely immersed in the town of Dunn’s Orchard. You will meet the amazing Attica Stone, and the wonderful Slotcar character (who reminds me a bit of Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter series). Pri’s parents – it’s nice to have a middle-grade protagonist with parents, just for a change 🙂 – are doing their best to stay cool while he navigates the craziness of the Razz Wood and does his best to save his town – or the wood – or the orchard – or his friends – or … but no spoilers here.
Read it. Read it to yourself, read it aloud to others. Nobody needs a backup plan with this excellent offering. I have my fingers crossed that Mat has more adventures planned for Pri, Attica and co.
9. The Cruel Prince, Holly Black
This novel has given me much to think about. I am so enthusiastic at the brilliant writing and the neat characterisation, but the plot is pretty dark. It’s my first Holly Black, and perhaps I need to read one or two more to delve a bit deeper. I wrote a blog about it, which you can read here — warning, *spoilers*.
That said, I’ve rated this book 5 stars on Goodreads, because I couldn’t put it down. It’s like George RR Martin, Juliet Marillier, and Paula Hawkins got together to write a completely captivating dark thriller set in Faerie.
By the way, I adore the cover.
I think if you love GOT, you will love this. So that’s most people!
10. Dyschronia, Jennifer Mills
I devoured this fascinating book, and I’m still thinking about it. That’s a sign that it has some important things to say, I think. There are also many phrases that I noted as worth re-reading, and adding to my list of cool things written by excellent authors.
The story in this novel is like a cracked mirror – there are shards of time and we don’t always exactly know where or rather when we are – but every piece shines with reflections of reality that we almost recognise, but of course everything looks different now that reality has been broken apart and reassembled.
This novel charts the dystopian future of a careless Australia, where the environmental damage is so gross that there is no future to be had. The wondrous, worrying dreams of local girl Samandra (Sam) are dismissed as, Cassandra-like, she debates how much to tell the people around her, people who prefer not to believe. Her mother Ivy in particular is determined to be head-in-the-sand, spending years trying to have Sam’s migraines diagnosed correctly. The resulting pronouncement of ‘dyschronia’ never quite settles the question, for Ivy, of whether Sam is truly foreseeing the future or just dreaming vividly and strangely. The entrepreneur Ed (who is meant to be charming, but I have pre-raised hackles about this kind of guy) is a credible saviour-cum-villain, or is it villain-cum-saviour, of the town. Sam’s best friend Jill is probably the most likeable of all the characters. I loved the device of the ‘chorus’ of locals whose comments intersperse Sam’s dreams and Sam’s story.
Equally prescient of a dire future and nostalgic of the simple ignorance of the past, this elegant story of loss and the inevitability of bad choices deserves an enduring place among the best Australian books of recent years.
So that’s it for another year! I can’t wait to see what 2019 brings in terms of new, re-discovered, and old books. Then of course there’s my TBR pile waiting patiently.
Join writer, editor and indie-author Michelle Emerson and me in today’s chat-fest. I love multi-tasking too! Michelle is the first non-fiction author I have interviewed on LWOTW, and as I have published some non-fiction books myself, it’s lovely to touch base again with that place of writing.
Michelle runs self-publishing services for indie authors, as well as writing her own very successful (and useful) help books for writers of all stripes. She lives in the north east of the UK and has a Shih Tzu called Buddy.
LWOTW: Hi Michelle, thanks for taking the time to chat with us here on Last Word of the Week. Tell us, when did you write your first story?
Michelle: Primary school, I think. As 7/8 year olds we were tasked with writing a ghost story (it must have been around Halloween time) and although I can’t remember much about the story (apart from a dapple grey rocking horse rocking in a bay window on its own) I can remember my teacher (lovely Mr Lenaghan) showing my story to another teacher and how happy it made me feel.
LWOTW: That’s a great memory. As a writer, what do you think of dreams, imagination, and planning?
As a writer I think it’s always good to write when inspiration strikes. That way the writing process is much easier, the content comes from a place of passion, and often flows much better. Having said that, I’m a non-fiction author so I’m also a big advocate for planning. To me, the concept of writing a whole book is overwhelming. However, if I break it down into chunks, writing targets and using bullet points and mindmaps to brainstorm, I’m much more likely to finish writing my books in a shorter space of time.
LWOTW: That’s really interesting. What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?
Publishing my first book. I’m a non-fiction / business book writer and have ghostwritten other books for clients. So to have my own name on the front cover was a big milestone for me. I no longer had the safety of hiding behind my authors’ names, and while it was scary to begin with, it has given me confidence to further publish another three books.
LWOTW: I suspect that there has always been an author hiding inside! What are you most busy with at the moment?
I’m writing a book about blogging at the moment. All the chapters are scoped out, I have set myself a target of writing 7k words a week, and hope to have it finished within the next month – just in time for Christmas.
LWOTW: Gotta love a target before the holidays! If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?
You can do this!
I love that! And the Last Word of The Week: What’s your favourite colour?
Blessed with a wildly overactive imagination, English author Jeannie Wycherley is chatting with me today. Jeannie lives in Devon with her husband and the fur-kids, three beloved dogs who are spoilt rotten (something I totally understand). Jeannie writes stories that are dark, suspenseful, horror-filled … and sometimes just plain weird in a wonderful kind of way.
LWOTW: It’s so lovely to meet you, Jeannie! Tell us, when did you write your first story?
Jeannie: I suppose like most writers I began in school. I loved writing, but you know what careers officers are like. They put me off. Instead I followed an academic path – right through to a PhD in history (which I loved doing, don’t get me wrong) – and worked in education for a long time. I ended up burnt out, on anti-depressants and receiving counselling for my struggle with work. Turned out I was just doing the wrong job and needed something more creative.
I started to write again in my early-forties and fell in love with it. It’s a rare day indeed where I don’t now do something related to my writing. My first success was an erotic story entered into a competition. I forget what it was called but it won. I was hooked!
Thanks, Jeannie, that really is a marvellous story and a bit of a reminder to those of us who have put off writing to do something more mainstream! What do you think of dreams, imagination, and planning?
Where would we be without any of those things? For as long as I can remember I have lived inside my imagination, a rich and colourful tapestry of weirdness for sure. I dwell there, with the characters I meet in other people’s work and the ones I conjure up myself. On long journeys I settle down for a good day-dream and put those characters in my head to work in different situations. My mind is a magical place, preferable to day-to-day reality sometimes!
Dreams are extremely important on a number of levels. I have my own dreams, as in my ambitions, driving me forward as a writer. I would love more people to delve into my stories. I’m sure there’s something for everyone. My ultimate dream is to write full time and support myself and my husband through sales, but at the moment it’s a balancing act.
I use my own nocturnal dreams as a starting point for stories. I recently wrote a love story (my first one as I usually write dark fantasy and horror) that came straight out of a dream. I awoke having experienced this coherent exploration of my feelings towards growing older, and feeling regret about things I miss from my younger years – a youthful body, the excitement of music and life and dancing, the first flush of true love etc. I really badly needed to write this up, and it became Keepers of the Flame. It’s a story I’m proud of, although a huge step away from what I normally write.
As for planning, well … I am a planner, and all my work is plotted. I find it makes writing easier, although there is room for manoeuvre within the story if things strike me of course. Sometimes characters – and events – can take me completely by surprise. I love it when that happens.
Yes, that’s brilliant, isn’t it? What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?
At the time of writing, the highlight is probably the publication of my debut novel Crone (2017). Sometimes I flip through my own copy and I think, ‘Did I really write that?’ Hahaha! It’s won a few awards that I’m proud of. A Chill with a Book Readers’ Award, and an Indie B.R.A.G Medallion.
But by the time this piece goes out, it will definitely be TheMunicipality of Lost Souls. The characters and the setting have me totally hooked and I can’t wait to unleash it. It’s a Victorian Gothic ghost story set where I live on the East Devon (UK) coast – think Jamaica Inn meets TheWalking Dead but with ghosts rather than zombies. It’s special and due out in Spring 2019.
Jamaica Inn meets The Walking Dead? Now I’m scared! Congrats on the new publications too. What are you most busy with at the moment?
I am hugely busy! I’ve just launched a new series called The Wonky Inn Books. The first novel, The Wonkiest Witch launched on Halloween, along with the Christmas special, The Witch Who Killed Christmas. These are designed to be lighter than my normal fare – they are clean and cozy witch mysteries.
I’m having such fun putting this series together! Book 2, The Ghosts of Wonky Inn and Book 3, Weird Wedding at Wonky Inn are both written and will be out before the end of the year, with two more to follow in 2019.
I’m currently writing Book 4 and plotting Book 5. At any one time I seem to have a book being edited, one being formatted, one plotting, one being written and one in marketing. There’s nowhere near enough hours in the day!
That sounds intriguing. If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Bum on seat. End of.
Oh yes!And the Last Word of The Week: What’s your favourite colour?
My inspiration is drawn from the landscape, and I am so lucky to live where I do, where the forest meets the sea. My favourite colour is green.
Fiona Morgan writes ‘thriller romances’ and lives in the small town of Airdrie near Glasgow with her husband and their two daughters. Fiona’s works include the gripping novels Free and What’s Mine. What a fabulous genre!
LWOTW: Welcome, Fiona. Tell me, when did you write your first story?
Fiona: Three years ago.
You’ve been very busy since! What do you think of dreams, imagination, and planning?
Love them. Although a lot of my writing isn’t always planned, the story writes it for me.
That’s great! What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?
People reading and loving my books!
That is really affirming, isn’t it? What are you most busy with at the moment?
Book number 3, cleverly titled number 3.
If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?
If you don’t do it it will never get done!
I agree: nobody else can write YOUR book. And the Last Word of The Week: What’s your favourite colour?
Today we are speaking with English author Anne Coates, who writes crime thrillers featuring protagonist Hannah Weybridge, a single mother and freelance journalist who lives in South East London – three characteristics she shares with her creator. However Anne insists that the similarity ends there and that gripping fiction takes over in the novels…
LWOTW: Hello, Anne, lovely to meet you. Can you tell us when you wrote your first story?
Anne: I remember writing a poem when I was six or seven about a bumble bee and later, like many teens, carried on writing poetry before I moved on to short stories. The first one I had published was a “confession” story for a magazine I worked on. It was wonderful at the time but it took a few years before I had another story published.
A confession! That sounds interesting. What do you think of dreams, imagination, and planning?
Dreams are central to my writing life. I often think about my characters or the plot before I go to sleep which sometimes results in horrific nightmares as I write crime thrillers! However, my dreams often offer solutions and plot twists. I’m useless at planning in the early stages and like to let my imagination take over and go where it will. Once the first draft is complete I construct timelines and have a card for each chapter and character but even then I go with the imaginative flow.
That sounds like the best of both worlds – planning and pantsing. And it obviously brings about great results! What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?
Being published is a huge buzz but nothing beats having people enjoy my books. It’s such a joy than being at a non-book event when someone says how much they enjoyed a Hannah Weybridge book. Most recently it happened to me at Tessa Jowell’s Memorial Service!
That’s totally awesome, good on you. What a great feeling. Tell us, what are you most busy with at the moment?
I’m writing the fourth in the Hannah Weybridge series. Plus on the back burner I’ve been toying with a stand-alone which is very different.
I suspect that like many writers, you have quite a number of back burners, Anne. If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Read widely – not just your own genre – and write, write, write until you find your own voice. Then write some more.
And the Last Word of The Week: What’s your favourite colour?
That depends on my mood! Often yellow and red but never orange.
Very interesting! Thank you so much Anne for spending time with us on last Word of the Week.