The New Year Approaches…

And this is how we are:

Scenario 1: The day before yesterday, I went downstairs around lunchtime to find Mr Litlove sprawled over the sofa in front of the television. I put my hand on his head.

‘I think I’m feeling a little better,’ he said, weakly.

‘Cure’s working, then?’ I asked. ‘Keep applying television directly to the eyeballs.’

‘If the pressure’s strong enough, it seems to keep the wound closed,’ he replied (and ruined the effect somewhat by laughing uproariously at his own joke).


Scenario 2: Yesterday I settled in the sitting room in the early afternoon with a fire going and my ipod docking station ready to deliver The Goldfinch on audiobook to me. I heard the first few paragraphs, I think. Certainly there was something about a hotel room in Amsterdam. But the next thing I really knew, Mr Litlove had come into the room to bank up the fire and draw the curtains as it was dark.

‘So how are you getting on with it?’ asked Mr Litlove who has read The Goldfinch and is keen to know what I think. ‘What bit have you got up to?’

‘Umm,’ I said. ‘I may have to start over again.’


Yes, we are a little bit tired over here, at the dog end of a long, hard year. What a strange and turbulent year it has been! When I look back over it, I find it unsurprising that we have a slightly ragged, chewed air about us.

On the side of the angels there was Shiny New Books, which we began planning way back in early February. I can’t quite believe that we have put out three full editions, three inbetweenies and have another full galloping towards us at the end of January. What a team we have been! I couldn’t wish for smarter, harder-working co-editors than Annabel, Harriet and Simon, not to mention the wonderful bloggers who have written reviews and features for us. After a quick tot-up, I find I have written 52 reviews and features for the magazine myself. I hope next year we can continue to refine and shape Shiny into the perfect magazine for us and for our audience.

On the side of the furies, however, it was an emotionally demanding year. My son split with his girlfriend and suffered greatly, though from August onwards, he’s been exemplary in getting his life back on track. He’s still healing and figuring things out, and you may imagine how much I hope he gets a few breaks next year. Then Mr Litlove has had quite a few battles at work, which eventually resulted in the gains he wanted, but leave him working ever more closely with his crazy boss. It’s my job to help him keep sane within an atmosphere that regularly risks toppling into hysteria. I find that, at the end of a long recitation of his boss’ latest exploits, if I throw my arms wide, gaze to the heavens and yell ‘But he’s a NARCISSIST!’ this makes Mr Litlove laugh. I might have to come up with something new in 2015, though. And you may recall as well my friend with MS who lost her husband. I have to thank you all for your wise counsel when I was feeling guilty about not being able to rush around with casseroles and practical support. In fact, my friend was rather overwhelmed by help, which has of course now evaporated, and the short emails of support that I regularly send her she has liked receiving. I do feel I’ve been able to be useful in a way I can sustain.

When I began this year, it was supposed to be dedicated to writing the book I’m working on (everything I’ve described so far came on top of that). And despite it all, I did manage to hit my target for the year. I’ve completed half the book, and the half that required the most research. And I have just about kept this blog ticking over. WordPress informed me the other day that I’ve written just shy of 100 posts this year. Which is a lot less than I would normally write, but you all know why. In fact, when I had a quick calculate across the whole year, I think I’ve written about 300,000 words, when you add in the correspondence I keep with some virtual friends. So not too shabby.

And I’ve taken up tai chi, and become a fan of the Alexander Technique. And with the support of my family, I’ve begun tackling some of my long-seated phobias about travelling and socialising (particularly when they come together). I’ve made slow but steady progress, and I’ll keep at it next year.

So it’s been a tough and busy year, but I feel I’ve had a lot of support. Mr Litlove’s been a darling. My family has been fantastic. My co-editors, a delight. And I don’t know what I would do without all my virtual blogging friends. You’ve stuck by me through the spotty blogging months when my attention was elsewhere; you’ve bolstered my confidence and optimism and just plain put up with me when I’ve been oversharing about some personal disaster or other; you’ve left intelligent, funny, witty comments on bookish matters of all kinds. A lot of you have written for SNB, too! Thank you, dear friends. I wish you all the loveliest, most peaceful, productive and happy 2015.

And now I might just stagger back to the sofa, where I think I left that book….





Christmas Isn’t Just For Extroverts

Well the extrovert uberlords seem to have taken over the world this December. I can’t walk through town without being blasted by ‘Frostie the Snowman’, the shops are packed with crowds and hanging decorations and stocked to the gunnels, everywhere you look something sparkles or shines or emits noise. The pubs and restaurants are full to bursting of carousing parties. If I turn on the television it’s a visual riot with people screaming and laughing, and anything nominally slow or tasteful is in fact designed to rip my bleeding heart from my body and roast it over a spit. You can sob or you can laugh at Christmas it seems, nothing in between. For those of us who are over-stimulated quite easily, it’s exhausting just being alive at the moment.

peaceful winter scene 2

But I’m taking a polemical stand on this blog today and saying that the festive season isn’t meant to be so noisy. The original blueprint was ‘Peace on earth, goodwill to all men,’ right? And that included something for everyone: peace on earth for the introverts, goodwill to all men for the extroverts. Some sort of yin and yang balance was intended. So where has all the peacefulness gone? Where are the moments of quiet contemplation, the still and silent communion? You have to fight quite hard to get restfulness factored in, and barely five minutes later, it’s ruined by some idiot with a party popper.

lake at winter

So, introverts, we are going to have to put our backs into this. We’re going to have to be quiet like we’ve never been quiet before, if we’re to bring any balance back at this time of the year. We’re going to meet a lot of resistance from people determined to make us party, and we’re going to have to stand very firm. And still. Someone has to contribute to the sum total of peace on earth, and we’re the ones best qualified to do it.

And extroverts? Let us have a fighting chance. Allow your loved introvert to sit alone and quiet sometimes, give them the gift of leaving the gathering early, and know that we are relating to you in significant ways even when we are reading a book. In fact, especially when we are reading a book. This Christmas, do your bit towards equal rights for different pleasures!

monet winter

A Festive Update

holly SNBOur latest ‘inbetweenie’, the update we put out between issues of Shiny New Books is now live and lovely! Publishers brought out so many fantastic books in the early autumn that we’ve got over 30 new reviews, as well as a Christmas quiz and an amazing 7-book prize from Buried River Press in a lucky draw competition (though UK and Eire entrants only).

Time to find out what you want for Christmas, and what you can get all your friends and relatives, too.

It’s A New Year, Again

Happy New Year, dear blogging friends!  I didn’t intend to take quite such a long blogging break, but just as Christmas was feeling properly passed, I fell ill with, well, I would call it vertigo, but Mr Litlove says you can only get that standing on the edge of a precipice. So I had a dizzy-headed thing that was very annoying because it got in the way of the orgy of reading I had planned with my new Christmas books. And it got in the way of blogging, of course. As you can see, I am much improved, as I could not have tolerated looking at a line of print a few days ago, but my head is still somewhat tender, so this won’t be a long post.

But I did want to talk about New Years Resolutions. I don’t always have them, but when something seems obviously ripe for change, I like the idea of having them, even if I can’t always follow through. This year in particular will be somewhat experimental as I’m not sure I can find the right strategies for change, or if change is actually possible. The dizzy-headed thing was a good example of the way I burn my brain out quite regularly, and I need to find ways to rest it more effectively. I have a very chatty and hyper brain that simply will not shut up, and it is never more exercised than when there are people around for whom I feel responsible. So Christmas is classic burnout time – not, I hasten to add because I am actually responsible for the people around me now, but I still feel it, in an impotent and pointless sort of way.

So, for instance, yesterday was a good case in point. I was in bed still, listening to Richard Russo’s Nobody’s Fool on audio book (it’s very good) and Mr Litlove was sitting on the bed reading Robert Harris’ take on the Dreyfus affair, An Officer and a Spy (which he has been absolutely super-glued to), when I heard the cat come running along the landing, into our room, where he jumped up on the bed. I instantly saw he had dirty hind quarters and something long and trailing protruding from his backside. Fortunately, Mr Litlove was right on it and scooped him up and took him downstairs (to much feline protesting). I cravenly counted to a hundred and then followed them down to see what had happened. It turned out to be a long, thin string of plastic that we can only presume he had eaten. Our cat does have a thing for plastic, despite the fact that we are all trained in the rapid response technique that means he is instantly removed from the vicinity of any plastic packaging. But who knows what he does on the quiet? Well, I think we have proof positive, should we ever have required it, that he does not poop rainbows, whatever he tries to tell us. By the time I rejoined the action, Harvey was wearing the offended look of a cat who has been doused with cold water and he spent the rest of the evening with his nose pressed against the study door, shut in the kitchen for sins he evidently found incomprehensible.

But the evening seemed to take a bit of a down turn from that point. Mr Litlove, who only yesterday had declared he felt Tigger-ishly bouncy again after fighting off a cold over Christmas, started to wonder if his cold was coming back. He spent the rest of the evening with the long face of a man condemned to return to work in the morning after ten lovely days of holiday. And our son, who has generally the sweetest and most even temper practically snarled at me when I tapped on his knee to give him an apple. Though in all honesty, he was probably involved in an online game at that point and I was caught in the crossfire of a reaction that was directed at something else entirely. See, my point here, really (and you could be forgiven for thinking we were never going to get to it) is that none of these things are in any way strange, serious or unusual. It’s all just ordinary life stuff. But I seem to notice everything, every little shift and nuance, and it bothers me. I begin to wonder whether I should do something. And I wonder whether I should have done something earlier. I wonder whether my loved ones are happy, and wish that they were. What usually happens is by some weird act of contagion I feel miserable for them and they then cheer up no end. And all the time this is happening, I am thinking, Litlove, this is THE most tremendous waste of emotional energy, time and thought and you know that, right?

So somehow, 2014 has to be the year where I Let Them Get On With It. This year is about reinforcing the bubble. It’s about trying to find ways not to let the moods, desires and caprices of other people get to me so much. How does one go about doing this? I have absolutely no idea. I was determined just to let yesterday evening wash over me, and yet when Mr Litlove came up to bed I found myself saying: ‘What made you so grumpy?’ And Mr Litlove replied, ‘Was I grumpy? Did I seem grumpy? I didn’t think I was grumpy!’ said somewhat grumpily, of course, and I thought to myself: let that be a lesson to you, my girl. This is a good and necessary resolution and you had best learn how to stick with it. Or at least, there’s another 364 days ahead in which to fail better.

Other resolutions are much easier because they seem more within my control. I’m not making any reading resolutions because I never stick to them. But I am going to dedicate a part of this blog to chronic fatigue syndrome and anxiety. I’ll be collecting all previous posts on those topics together under a menu bar and writing some new essays. I really hope that it might offer some sort of a resource to other people in the same boat. In terms of writing, I hope to be working steadily across the year on my latest book, which involves a fair amount of research and will certainly not be finished in 2014. Hence the desire to keep my energy more contained and focused and to avoid brain burnout. Oh and this is also going to be the year of tai chi. I have found a local group that actually meets in the morning and is not for the disabled or elderly – result! Classes start on 30th January and doubtless you will hear more about them in due course.

So a very happy New Year to you all and may it be a peaceful and productive one for all of us. If you have resolutions you want to make, do share them here and we’ll make a pledge to stick with them – nothing like confessing in public to strengthen one’s resolve and all that.